I’ve known Kingsport restaurateur Raffaele Misciagnia since the mid-1990s, having been a regular customer of his sadly missed restaurant from the former Fort Henry Mall’s heyday.

I’ve also taken clients, family and friends to Giuseppe’s, the restaurant property with which he and his brother Michael dominate Kingsport’s Stone Drive.

From that time to this I had never once dined at Raffaele’s; that is, until the dine-around bunch and I were in Colonial Heights and my dining partner pointed at the restaurant’s sign while giving me an arch look and asking “How about we eat there tonight?”

Well, why not?

First impressions

Raffaele’s Italian Cuisine is located three stoplights north of Interstate 81’s junction with Tenn. Highway 36, the Fort Henry Drive exit. Turn right at the light, and Raffaele’s is the second storefront on your right. There is plenty of parking out front and easy access to the restaurant’s front door.

Inside Raffaele’s you will find the cashier counter and carry-out fronting a compact and very busy kitchen behind it. On your right is the maitre’d station with access into the 80-seat dining area, with restrooms further along. Décor is “low-key Italian,” with curtained and free-standing divider walls providing a comfortable “snugness” to an otherwise “open” front dining room.

The order

Serving as Misciagnia’s very efficient and friendly “Front of House,” Savannah found the Retiree, my dining partner and I a table near the action, and introduced us to our server, the very knowledgeable and professional Rosa, who answered our questions and made helpful suggestions. Rosa let us know that pizza was on the menu, in thin-crust Napolitano and thick-crust Siciliana styles. Calzones and strombolis were also available, also sandwiches, hot and cold. Desserts include tiramisu, cannoli and something called fried cheesecake.

Before settling in with Raffaele’s menu, I asked Rosa to bring me a cup of their soup of the day, a smooth and complex Mushroom Brie ($4.95), to give my taste buds a refresher course on Raffaele’s unique menu of flavors and textures.

I noticed a number of entries were listed as gluten free, and made my choice; ordering a dinner-sized portion of the tuna salad ($10.30) with their in-house balsamic vinaigrette as the dressing. My dining partner chose the chicken piccata entrée ($11.65) along with an a la carte side salad at $4.95 extra. Our friend the Retiree picked the chicken with broccoli pasta dish ($11.60) also with a salad added in ($4.95). Both entrees had a loaf each of Misciagnia’s excellent Italian bread to help manage any stray sauces.

How it tastes

My mushroom and brie soup had a texture like liquid silk matching a complex mixture of flavors, getting several pungent notes from the mushrooms, blending nicely with the smoky funkiness of the brie cheese. The crackers served with the soup sounded the only sour note in the composition, being commissary-supplied and stale.

I was particularly pleased with my tuna salad, it being a nice collection of field greens, roughly cut cucumber, cherry tomato slices, several whole pickled pepperoncini and some sliced red onions. Rather than using the expected solid white albacore tuna by itself, Misciagnia had chosen chunk light tuna folded with about two tablespoons of mayonnaise; not a version expected in an Italian restaurant of this caliber, but still a welcome change from the expected and ordinary.

The Retiree’s chicken and broccoli entrée was quite good, the broccoli adding a slightly bitter note to the mushroom in the white wine sauce reduction that held the chicken and the penne pasta. Her salad was cold, crisp and well-made.

My dining partner was pleased with her chicken piccata entrée, and paid particular attention to how the crushed garlic, lemon, butter and capers in the sauce brightened the mixing of the sliced breast of chicken, green spinach and fettuccini noodles, the acidic tang from the lemon and capers cleansing the palate before the next bite.

“Just delightful,” was my dining partner’s verdict as she pushed her scarpetta of Italian bread around her plate, collecting each and every morsel of her entree.

The bottom line

Raffaele’s is a family friendly Italian restaurant located in Colonial Heights. The restaurant is competently run by owner Raffaele Misciagnia, and has a wait staff that is not only friendly and knowledgeable but professional as well.

In addition to their regular entrees, the kitchen at Raffaele’s has gluten-free offerings on its menu. The salads are fresh and well-crafted. Sauces and dressings are created in-house and delicious.

Becoming familiar with a cuisine and menu I knew more than 30 years ago has been both an exciting and memorable experience for me at Raffaele’s Italian Cuisine.

Why not make it an experience for you, your family and friends to enjoy as well?

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