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A selection of entrees and appetizers at Carrabba's

Feb 2, 2020

The Flavors of Family

Barry Kaufman

Photography By

In the fine Italian tradition, Carrabba’s welcomes you to the table like you’re one of their own.

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If there’s one word that describes Italian cooking, it’s family. Just look at the recipes that are carefully cultivated and passed down—treasured family heirlooms passed down from generation to generation. As it is bequeathed to the next generation of chefs, each puts their own spin on it, adding their own flavors and techniques. As such, while there is a shared lineage and pedigree that defines Italian cuisine, each family has put their own indelible mark on their personal recipes.

And, of course, you have to mention the notion of family-style dining, invented at kitchen tables in Italian households the world over. If you’ve ever been fortunate to be welcome to a traditional Italian meal, you know you don’t walk away hungry.

This notion of family is paramount at Carrabba’s Italian Grill, where the founding families of the Carrabbas and the Mandolas have taken the traditions of their native Sicily and spun them off in exciting new directions that have made the restaurant one of the fastest growing in the country.

“What really differentiates us is that we use family recipes,” said Tim DePetris, proprietor of Carrabba’s Italian Grill Hilton Head. “These are recipes that have been handed down through the generations, and there’s a story behind each one.”

These stories are told in a series of “founder’s facts,” anecdotes that lend a deeper authenticity to every succulent bite. Here, when you enjoy a perfectly seared tender morsel of steak, you’re sampling a tradition that goes back to “Mr. C,” Johnny Carrabba’s father who spent his life perfecting the art of the grill as a butcher. And there are countless tales to go along with each dish; you’ll have to make multiple trips to hear them all.

And because the family’s legacy is on display with each dish, their reputation is at stake with every bite.

Carrabba’s takes the utmost care to preserve the quality that defined the brand by taking extra time with every item on the menu. Everything, from the sauces and dressings to the soups and herb mixes, is made from scratch every day, using family recipes that go back centuries. Rather than just ladling on sauces, each pasta dish is sautéed in its sauce, infusing it with rich flavors of herbs and tomatoes.

“These are all the things that Johnny Carrabba did in his kitchen, so there’s a lot of background and family tradition in everything we do,” DePetris said. “You’ll find some restaurants where they’ve changed recipes to incorporate cheaper ingredients, but to us preserving that family tradition was crucial to the experience.”

And in much the same way that each generation puts its spin on family recipes, DePetris is putting his own spin on the experience at the Hilton Head Island location. In addition to the famed Carrabba’s dinner menu, he’s added a lunch menu boasting mouth-watering sandwiches and smaller portions of the classic dishes. There are also twice-monthly wine dinners, where the chefs will create distinctive new items to pair with meticulously curated vintages from California and beyond. “What’s cool about those dinners is that you’ll find items that aren’t on our regular menu. About 90 percent of them we’ll create just for that dinner,” DePetris said.

And when you want to add a little touch of that Carrabba’s family magic to your next event, they now offer catering. “We began catering back in March, just testing out in a few smaller venues,” DePetris said. “Now, we are ready to offer the same quality, made-from-scratch Italian favorites to large corporate events, weddings; no event is too big or small.” 

Carrabba’s Italian Grill is located at 14 Folly Field Rd. on Hilton Head Island. To learn more, visit or call (843) 785-5007.

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