Chalk It Up

August 2013
Written By: 
Denise Mullen
Photographs by: 
Ruta Elvikyte

Benny Rappa’s ever-changing chalkboard menu provides fresh Italian fare



Benny Rappa’s Trattoria: It’s the kind of place with a beat that your palate can dance to. Even the name itself rolls off your tongue like a creamy gelato.

Set amongst the mish-mash of North Myrtle Beach’s main drag, this Italian trattoria gets friendly right from the road, its red and green exterior waving you over while wafts of roasting garlic wash over the parking lot.

Unless you have reservations—which we didn’t—expect a few minutes’ wait for seating. Benny Rappa’s stays true to the “home away from home” trattoria style—small and intimate. A table in the main dining area is a coveted commodity.

One entire wall inside the restaurant is devoted to the “chalkboard menu” which means that the fare changes daily. But any dish can be prepared, in any way, as long as the kitchen has the ingredients on hand.

So, even though Roasted Vegetable Ravioli with marinara was a featured dish the evening we visited, I overheard a customer asking for a mix of beef and cheese ravioli with Bolognese. And he got just that!

There’s an entertaining balance between kitsch and class at Benny Rappa’s.

Cheesy murals are offset by the charm of tin ceiling tiles. Servers wear Rat Pack-ish black vests and fedoras, while taking orders with their high-tech, hand-held POS systems. As retro as it may seem, there’s nothing backward about the backlit table menu, wine list and check folder. Absolutely brilliant!

We decided to try the Antoinette Greens as a starter, forgoing the more familiar appetizer offerings du jour of clams and mussels casino and fried calamari.

And what a savory surprise it was. The portion was plenty enough for our party of three, a warm sauté of escarole, mild salami bites, hot cherry peppers, bread crumbs and grated Romano. Along with the basket of steamy crusty bread, the Antoinette could satisfy me any time as a hearty and delicious meal.

The chalkboard offered up four pasta dishes including baked stuffed shells in Bolognese and mozzarella and red or white clam and mussel sauce over linguini. And, by the way, Benny Rappa’s serves gluten-free and whole wheat pastas.
The Salmon Puglia was already sold out, so entrées still in the running included Chicken Riggies (chunks of chicken tossed with rigatoni) Marinara with hot cherry peppers; Scallops Picatta; Veal Julianna; Eggplant Parmesan; Short Ribs ala Vino with portabellas, carrots, onions and fennel over roasted potatoes; a 16-ounce bone-in New York Strip finished with a balsamic reduction; or Shrimp Alfredo with fresh tomatoes and broccoli.

Ravioli, scallops and veal please!

The highlight of the ravioli dish was the fresh marinara that was able to stand out from the veggie-packed pasta since it wasn’t overloaded with spicing.

My husband asked for marsala rather than the white sauce for his Veal Julianna. The thin and perfectly cooked meat came with a ration of broccoli rabe, roasted red peppers and yellow squash. And as we experienced the culinary attitude of Benny Rappa’s, we found that sauces tended to be lighter in taste. It was a fine sauce, but carrying more of an essence of marsala rather than making it the overall star of the plate.

In like fashion, my scallops dish with sautéed broccoli and mushrooms was a paler version of the predictable tangy hit of lemon and capers known to most picattas.

The chalkboard menu extends to daily lunch plates, but Benny Rappa’s also offers a unique “Lunch On Time” roster of dishes designed to get you in and out of the restaurant in 29 minutes.

Desserts are a la carte and I’ve heard raves about the homemade cannoli. The caramel Godiva crème brulee was not on the chalkboard the night we dined there, but the tiramisu, lemoncello mascarpone mousse cake, spumoni and gelatos were.

The ample appetizer selections run $10.95 each. Pasta dishes range from $16.95 to $19.95 and entrees start at $18.95 for Eggplant Parmesan up to $36.95 for the 16-ounce New York Strip.

If you’re looking for an eatery that is diametrically opposed to the chain experience with an ever-changing menu and a lively, down-home atmosphere, Benny Rappa’s offers just that.

Benny Rappa’s Trattoria
1453 U.S. 17 South
North Myrtle Beach, SC 29582
(843) 361-1056
Open for dinner 5–10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and for lunch 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m.
Wednesday through Friday