Coal-fired artisan pizza at Raleigh's Serena Society.

Convene with good food and drink at Serena Society in Raleigh

Bellies full, and exponentially satiated, my husband and I trudged out of Raleigh’s Serena Society, the latest sibling to restaurateur and New York transplant Guiseppe Cataldo’s pair of sister Sicilian-influenced eateries Serena Cucina and Serena Gastropub.

We knew, though, something was different from Cucina next door when we walked into a room while DJ Snake’s “Lean On” pulsated in the background and an illuminated, glittering lettered sign that spelled “B-A-R” hung on the wall. Gone were the servers, clad in monochromatic black, swirling about the dining room like they do in Cucina. Instead over in Society, it was a lone relaxed bartender, Edward, beckoning you towards the bar where you can also order food, or inviting you to seat yourselves in the long dual rows of tables stretching the space.SerenaSociety

At Society, the formalities of a full-service restaurant are stripped away leaving an unencumbered ambiance. The casual, low-key restaurant effuses a lo-fi vibe, much like a neighborhood tavern. As Cataldo explains it, it’s a place to grab a few beers with friends after hours (the black binder chock full of an expansive craft beer selection remains in tact at Society) and to eat a few small bites of food. Its aim isn’t to dazzle you with promises of Michelin star or James Beard Awards-winning esoteric fare that’s muddled in gastriques and demi-glaces, but rather Society wants to cull neighbors, regulars together from the surrounding communities and feed them solid food and drink at great prices.  What Cataldo sheepishly omits to extoll when he’s welcoming us, however, is just how good the food is.

Marinated olives, fried chickpeas, schiacciata #Raleigh #Sicilian

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As invited guests of Cataldo that night, my husband and I were plied with samplings from the Sicilian-influenced menu at Society, one that reads similarly to Cucina next door (both restaurants share the same kitchen), but abbreviated, with slightly less costlier options and a concentration on smaller bites of food.

First, an apéritif, a house-infused shot of grappa to cleanse the palate for the feast that was about to ensue. What followed was a veritable smorgasbord of Society’s small bites from the menu, much like Spanish tapas or Japanese izakaya: marinated olives, fried chickpeas, fried mozzarella discs and creamy hummus. Those that love the bread service, schiacciata (house-baked bread dusted with Italian herbs) over at Cucina, will be pleased to find it at Society, albeit at an additional cost of $1.99, but still very dunkable into the ramekin of marinara sauce.  From this amalgamation of small bites, the clear star was the spiedie (think Sicilian yakitori) –marinated chunks of succulent grilled chicken pierced onto wooden skewers–served with herbed aioli for even more hedonistic pleasure.

Grilled chicken spiedie skewers

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What’s best is that most of the small plates, including the insalatini assortment of chickpea, quinoa and farro salads, never exceeded $7.

For those with a more robust appetite, Society offers a carousel of 6-inch submarine sandwiches, again mostly under the $7 mark,  that run the gamut from chicken spiedie to pulled pork barbecue. Subs like the shaved steak, with towering mounds of shaved steak topped with gooey, melted mozzarella are packed into crevices of a soft roll, rolls, added Cataldo, that are specially-made shorter for Society from Neomonde bakery.  Seeking quality local purveyors doesn’t stop at the bread, we were also told that many cuts of beef at Society comes from Angus Barn.

A carousel of sub sandwiches.

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And, for those that seek the a more laissez-faire approach to dining, the build-your-own pasta and salads still remain on Society’s menu, replete with many choices of toppings such Moorish beef meatballs and grilled octopus. The blistered, coal-fired 12” red and white pizzas carry over to the menu as well, but with an additional choice of a smaller flatbread size.

Should the craving for sweets arise, Society has those covered with the usual suspects–cannoli, tiramisu and panna cotta–though the standout was a layered cake made with Meyer lemons. For a larger group hankering for a carb dosing, the bianco dessert pizza, baked dough decadently shellacked in a coat of Nutella and sprinkled with powdered sugar and crushed graham crackers, will likely have diners yearning for a carb-loaded nap afterwards.

Bianco dessert pizza made with #Nutella, powdered sugar and crushed graham crackers.

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Perhaps Society’s biggest obstacle is its cloaked location, tucked away behind its older sister, away from the main shopping strip drag, despite being a gem of a tavern in its obscurity. Those that look more closely at, or rather that don’t overlook, Serena Society will be rewarded handsomely with quality food and drink without breaking the bank.

SERENA SOCIETY | 7456 Creedmoor Road Raleigh NC 27613 | 919.900.7685

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