Gravy Italian-American Kitchen Now Open in Downtown Raleigh…and it’s all graaaavy!

don't fear the meatball...

June, 12, 2009, by Christian

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Gravy is now open for lunch and dinner, Monday through Saturday, with extended evening hours on the weekend. Gravy brings Italian-American cuisine downtown, and while that concept may sound familiar to those who have eaten at Bella Monica, Gravy is not Bella Monica II.

For those who remember Riviera, the last restaurant to occupy the space, there is little structural difference. Gravy retains the narrow-but-deep floorplan, with the bar on the left side of the restaurant and a large basement/cellar space that will undoubtedly be used for large groups and private events. The dining room has changed somewhat. There is a long row of booths along the brick wall to the right. Local art hangs on the wall. The other tables and chairs are black-on-black painted wood and arranged neatly down the center of the dining room parallel with the booths. It all feels very Manhattan, which is probably the idea. It is an efficient use of a relatively intimate space and makes for easy navigation throughout the restaurant. There are also a few high top tables at the front of the restaurant by the windows.

At 1:00 pm the downtown professionals were finishing up and the restaurant was slowly being overtaken by late lunch stragglers like myself. My reservation was probably unnecessary, but I would still recommend making one if you have a larger group or arrive during peak hours and don’t want to wait. But hey, there’s always the bar for that kind of thing. We were seated at one of the high top tables by the window which provided for prime people watching, both inside the restaurant and outside on the street. Case in point - Ivan Howard and Kelly Crisp (a/k/a The Rosebuds) walked by about five minutes after we were seated. I guess they weren’t hungry!

The menu is reasonably-priced, with most lunch items priced between $8-12, and dinner entees costing a few dollars more. At lunch you can choose from a variety of pasta, oven baked specialties, sandwiches, salads, starters, and sides. The diner menu forgoes the sandwiches but adds a hanger steak, pan-seared chicken, and fish. The wine list is exclusively Italian, but also reasonably priced. By-the-glass selections start at $5 and there are several bottles costing in the low-$20s. Ordering Italian wine can sometimes be tricky since there are unique grape varietals, but fortunately Gravy’s list arranges their wines by flavor profiles to help us all out. The Montepulciano D’Abruzzo ($6/glass) was fragrant and dry; it was a good compliment to my meal.

My lunch companion ordered the Grilled Calamari Salad, which is available in small ($4.95) or large portions ($8.95). The large portion consisted of a plate of fresh greens, toasted pine nuts, sliced red onion, lemon olive oil dressing, and several tubes of fresh calamari. The calamari tubes were served whole rather than sliced for easy eating, and I think that pre-slicing would make for a better presentation and convenience, but that’s just my personal opinion. The salad was tasty and very light. I think it would be better as an appetizer salad rather than a whole meal, so thankfully it is available in a smaller portion for reduced price.

I decided to stick to the classics, so I ordered the “Meatballs & Gravy” ($8.95). And I couldn’t resist adding sliced Portobello Mushrooms for $2.50 (not pictured). The meatballs were juicy and flavorful, with just the right amount of seasoning. Most of the pastas are made in-house, and my spaghetti noodles were tenderly delicious. And for the gravy, of yes, the gravy! Gravy’s “gravy” as they say is on the rustic side as far as pasta sauces go. It is not the fluorescent red kind that you get from a can of Prego. It was clearly homemade, with bits of onion, garlic, olive oil, and spices. You can order your gravy with meat or vegetarian for no extra charge. Obviously as the restaurant’s namesake, I should hope the gravy would be delicious, and it was. My only complaint is that there wasn’t more of it.

But what good is pasta without fresh bread, right? The bread at Gravy was freshly baked and the crust was smeared with pesto. It was served with a dish of seasoned olive oil for dipping. We had to request bread so I’m not sure if that’s a policy or if our waiter simply forgot. Either way I definitely recommend it. It is rude to lick your plate in public, and I can’t think of anything better than sopping up the extra gravy with freshly baked bread. Sublime.

Overall I was impressed with Gravy. Normally I would not review a restaurant on its second day open (and first day open for lunch) but I was confident that Gravy would have everything in order. Running downtown restaurants is becoming old hat for Empire Eats, and the owners of Bella Monica have already succeeded once. I have little doubt that Gravy will become another go-to spot downtown for good food and good times.

Special thanks to Khaner Walker for snapping the pictures.

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Restaurants, Other posts by Christian.


Downtown RaleighEmpire Eats


  • RaleighRob
    06/12 02:51 PM

    Sounds great.  Can’t wait to try it.
    I keep checking the website for a menu…hope they get one up soon!!

  • Christian
    06/12 02:58 PM

    The Raleigh Downtowner has viewable menus on their website:

    I think they may have some kind of exclusive rights to post them so I didn’t include them here.

  • ajbell2
    06/12 03:13 PM

    Just had lunch there.  After a twenty minutes wait, we tried the pasta puttanesca.  My companions had the pomodori pasta and the gnocchi.  We were all very impressed, though the portions were a little small.  Will definitely go back for lunch (though it’s tempting with Sitti next door).  Good price though for the quality of food you get.

  • Carver
    06/12 04:40 PM

    Yes… small portions and for you carnivores adding chicken or other meat to your selected pasta dish is not enough. You’ll need to order double my friends. As my lady friend says… where’s the meat! Doh! Other than that is was tasty!

  • Karl
    06/13 07:40 PM

    How much do you people weigh ?
    I just ate there and it was great.
    My only like-minded criticism would be that it’s rich food.
    And that is a flimsy criticism.
    So, to make the portions bigger would be overkill.

    Commence the bitching.

  • MaryBeth Isaac
    06/13 09:45 PM

    The Norma plate looks great.  I cannot wait to eat there - thanks for the great critique.

  • Alice
    06/14 01:05 AM

    Enoyed dinner on Wednesday.  Glad to see so many friendly and familiar faces.  Loved everything we tried (nero d’avola, caprese, gnocchi, ziti, rapini, cobbler) and left very contented.  Great service (thanks Toni)!  Looking forward to our next visit!

  • IFGD
    06/14 02:27 AM

    I attended their soft opening.  It was fantastic.  The snapper and the veal sliders are by far the best food I have had in Raleigh in a very long time.  I highly recommend it for price and quality.

  • howboutafresca
    06/15 11:56 AM

    Ate there Friday night and thought it was great. Smaller portions which suited us just fine. Reasonable pricing too. Definitely would recommend.

  • HPB
    06/16 09:59 AM

    I went last night with some friends. Service was friendly but erratic and very slow. The food was, I’m sorry, nothing special. The “gravy” lacked flavor. The atmosphere was very nice though, I will say. Loved the decor. The bread was also very nicely flavored. I might go back for lunch to try one of the sandwiches, but if I’m looking for dinner in the area I will stick with Sitti.

  • WAM
    06/16 12:01 PM

    I went last night as well and agree with HPB.  Service was friendly but very erratic and we waited over an hour for our food and had polished off a bottle of wine before our meal even arrived.  The food was very disappointing as well besides the buffalo mozzarela appetizer. We ordered the chicken parmesan and the baked ziti.  The chicken parm was very bland and the baked ziti had very little “gravy” and there was a pool of oil/grease in the bottom of the bowl of pasta.

    We are going to give it one more chance and try different entrees, but in my opinion Gravy is no where close to Picolla Italia in Cameron Village or 518 if you want good Italian food.

  • Rudy
    06/16 01:50 PM

    I have tried Gravy as well and was very unimpressed.  While standing outside the restaurant waiting for the rest of my party to arrive, I overheard two different couples walk out and complain about the food.  One said they “would never go back” and the other said “it wasn’t good at all”. 

    I agree that the service was very friendly, but it was a bit over the top.  The bolognese tasted (and looked) like hamburger helper and was extremely salty.  The lavender panna cotta and risotto cakes were the only bright spots of the evening.

  • Betty & Bob
    06/16 07:02 PM

    I have to disagree with the above posts.  My husband and I had dinner there on Monday evening and will be visiting again very soon.  We started off with a cheese plate and 2 glasses of a white wine suggested by the server. (We always let the server pick out the wine, she did a wonderful job!) Then we had a grilled apricot salad, another great suggestion by the server.  Do yourself a favor and try this wonderful creation.  I had the Hanger Steak and my husband had the Burro E Salvia.  Both were delicious.  We had the cobbler for dessert, another amazing creation by the chef.  It sounds as if people are looking for a fast, quick Italian meal.  We had an amazing evening.

  • Christian
    06/16 08:24 PM

    Seems like Gravy is getting some seriously mixed reviews. I just ate there for the second time and it was another solid experience. I bellied up to the bar around 5:45pm for an early dinner. I think i was the only customer at the time but several groups came in shortly thereafter. I ordered the “Norma” ($11.95) which is a composition of rigatoni, diced eggplant, gravy, capers, and shaved pecorino cheese. Again, i thought the dish was very good. Yes, the portion size could be larger, but it’s not like I left hungry, especially considering that fresh bread is served gratis. I agree that the food isn’t anything off the charts, but it is tasty and reasonably priced. Hopefully Gravy will see some of these comments and adjust. There was a healthy serving of gravy in my dish, so the early complaints about the lack thereof may have already been resolved. The house Sangiovese at $5 was an easy drinking, classic italian red wine that paired well with my meal. I don’t know what people are expecting exactly. I don’t have any tie to the place, so it’s not my intention to defend them at all costs, but if people are looking for world class cuisine this obviously isn’t the place and it doesn’t portend to be. People seem inclined to compare it Sitti, but while I like Sitti a lot, I’ve been disappointed by their food at times as well. If you want to pay $30+ for your meal at Fins, Second Empire, etc.. then of course you would expect a much higher quality of food and service. Gravy is just a neighborhood bistro serving basic italian cuisine. And it’s only been open for a week so kinks here and there are to be expected. That’s just the price you pay sometimes, and we all know it can happen anywhere. I hope those people who were disappointed will give it another try in the future. I think you may find that your bad experience was the exception and not the rule.

  • HPB
    06/17 12:07 PM

    Betty, I’m glad that you had a nice experience. Having lived in Italy for 3 years, I have plenty of my own experience with an Italian style dinner. Not rushed, not hurried, good food, good friends. I do not mind waiting a reasonable amount of time for food, especially if it is good. Neither of these things happened for our table. I was really excited about Gravy opening and like I said, I’m willing to try again at lunch time. I hope they make some adjustments, especially to the food. Our bill (two beers and two entrees) was 48 bucks before tip, which is reasonable…if the food is good. It just wasn’t for us.

    WAM, I think you might have been sitting across the aisle from our table. I remember seeing a couple drinking a bottle of wine and assuming it was the end of their meal. I was shocked when your food was brought out. I wondered how long you had been there. ha!

  • rdugirl
    06/17 09:20 PM

    Had a late dinner on Sat night. While waiting at the bar for our table, the bartender gave jus a good rundown on the menu, he was very friendly and knowledgable. I had the vodka gravy with shrimp and it was very good.  My better half had the bolognese and he said the same thing as Rudy ‘hamburger helper’  The table service was erratic and never got any bread.  The blueberry cobbler was very good and a nice size portion.  Bill for dinner with 2 glasses of wine was $48..reasonable.  We will definetly give it another try.

  • disappointed
    06/18 12:27 PM

    Recently moved to Raleigh from NYC and Bella Monica has the best Italian food in Raleigh (I’ve tried most all) so I was excited to hear about Gravy, however, I was highly disappointed.  I went there last night with friends and the service was super slow (and not like fine dining slow).  It took forever to get the food and the second bottle of wine took 30 minutes to bring out.  I love the baked ziti at Bella Monica so I decided to try the ziti at Gravy.  The portion was super small and did not come with a salad.  It was cold and the gravy tasted like it came straight out of a jar.  The bread was the only good part of the meal.  The restaurant was nicey decorated but it was very loud, I could hardly here my friends sitting across the table.

  • guest
    06/18 02:12 PM

    My wife and I had dinner last night at Gravy with a friend.  We all loved our meals.  The apps were great, the desserts were all spectacular and the main courses were good. I might be wrong but I think a lot of people expected this place to be fine dining, but it is not.  Its a neighborhood joint, with great prices and good solid menu. I look forward to returning often.  On the service side, I will admit there were some kinks, but the place has been open less than a week.  It takes time to train staff and for them to figure out how to handle themselves in the weeds.  For our experience the service was not slow at all and we were in and out in two hours, which included three courses and some lingering over a final glass of wine.  Good spot!

  • niblosis
    06/18 02:58 PM

    I agree with Cristian… the place has been open a week and I’m sure there are kinks to work out.  My meals have been great, I can’t get enough of the lavender panna cotta.  Yes, my chicken was a little salty, but that’s no reason reason to come at them with pitchforks and torches though.  LOL.  I’m not sure what some of the posters above were looking for… The place is a neighborhood joint and, I think, a great place to meet your friends for good food, good drink.

  • Rudy
    06/18 04:02 PM

    I hardly think anyone is coming after them “with pitchforks and torches”.  From reading all of the posts, it is clear that Gravy has some issues to iron out.  Maybe it’s because they are new, maybe it’s not.  Only time will tell.  I do plan on giving Gravy another try, but I will probably wait a bit.  Hopefully the food and service will improve with experience.  And I hope they offer me bread next time!

  • HPB
    06/18 05:04 PM

    LOL @ pitchforks and torches. Wow, that’s a stretch. Look, if people have a different opinion than you it doesn’t mean they are wrong or on a witch hunt. The fact that the reviews are truly mixed says to me that they definitely have some things to work on. I don’t think anyone here was being ugly or hateful- just speaking honestly about their experience.

  • miamiblue
    06/19 09:22 AM

    All these mixed reviews really make me want to give Gravy a try. I’m thinking that the polarization here is probably due to vastly differing expectations of different patrons. Some may be expecting a translation of Italian cuisine direct from Italy or Little Italy in NY, and they end up disappointed (and even then, Italian cuisine varies greatly from region to region). Others seem to have different or no expectations at all and seem to be relatively happy.

    When I do go, I will try not to have any expectations. Gravy is billed as an Italian-American style, so I will take that for what it is, which means many different things to different people. I will definitely not go in expecting anything like what my Italian great aunt used to spend all day toiling over for family dinners. Those kinds of expectations have always led me to disappointment!

    Thanks everyone for all the reviews, good, bad and in between.

  • MMI
    06/19 03:10 PM

    Well, I won’t expect ITALIAN, just because Italians don’t put their meatballs in with the sauce—meatballs are a separate side dish.  That said, I expect Italian-American, which is just fine by me.  I’ll be trying Gravy sometime in the next week or so.  Review to follow!

  • Moneypenny
    06/22 09:38 AM

    My best friend and I ate there on Thursday night.  It was great!  We tried several items…all fresh.  The mozz really stood out.  One surprise—> the risotto “side” was little cubes of breaded risotto in red sauce.  I wasn’t expecting that, but it was yummy.  The staff were attentive and friendly.  Given the location and quality, I think the price point is very fair.  The most expensive thing on my bill was my one adult beverage!

  • niblosis
    06/22 07:16 PM

    ok, ok, my friends.  I hear you.  Hyperbole does not translate well on the intertubes.  I was trying to be wee sarcastic with the “pitchforks and torches” comment.  thanks for bringing me back to Earth.

  • MMI
    06/23 12:45 AM

    So the risotto side is more like Arroncini?  Yum.  You don’t see those too often.

  • HRH
    06/24 09:41 AM

    Ate at busy bee last night and had the Gravy and Meatballs. Absolutely delicious.

  • RAM
    06/24 05:26 PM

    The Busy Bee has Gravy and Meatballs now??

  • John
    06/29 02:46 PM

    My wife and I ate at Gravy the other night. I haven’t read the other reviews here as I trusted Empire Eats and Greg Hatem to only offer the best experience. Boy, I was I wrong. My review entitled ‘Very disappointing’ is posted at:

  • pickle
    06/30 09:05 PM

    Had the vegetarian meatballs with spaghetti - yum!  I really liked this place.  Good (but a little slow) service, nice atmosphere.  I’ll be back!

  • Jack
    07/02 01:51 AM

    We had dinner tonight at Gravy…Wow! The experience was amazing.  Our risotto was cooked perfectly, as well as the hanger steak.  My wife had the chicken entree and said she would order it again and again..(and again!)  Brad was great, he was attentive and answered all of our questions with grace.  This is our new downtown Raleigh favorite.  We will be back!

  • Lesa
    07/03 04:05 PM

    We had a great lunch here today. The service was good, and the food was delicious. Try the vodka sauce!

  • Lily
    07/17 03:19 PM

    We went last night for dinner. We wanted to try something new, and since we love the Empire restaurants and Bella Monica’s we figures we couldnt go wrong. Service was very polite and the manager was very nice. However, I would probably not go back there again for the food, I may go for a drink at most. We waited over an hour for our food, when it came, one dish was wrong, and was lacking sauce on the pasta, the other pasta dish had a burnt taste in the sauce and the other two dishes were mediocre and one steak overcooked. For a simple pasta dish, you would think you cant go wrong. I will say, that the manager handled everything VERY well and even admitted that it wasnt up to her standards. We had not even said anything about our food, she just observed. At the end of the night, between appetizers, dinner and drinks our bill was pretty hefty and we left with only eating dessert.. after 3 hours. I will say, that the atmosphere is welcoming, but if having great food on the first impression, is key!

  • Kim
    07/24 01:50 PM

    Terrible food (how can you ruin a simple salad?), poor service (probably because the place is so noisy, the waiters can’t hear the orders).  Next time I want to eat at Bella Monica, I’ll go to Bella Monica.

  • Ryan21
    08/10 04:43 PM

    Great post…..I will be sure to eat here soon. You should try Vivace . The restaurant has a great ambience and the food they serve is simply phenomenal, it’s my favorite.

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