Tuscany | Ottumwa, IA
Rustic Italian Cuisine & Midwest Favorites
When you think of Tuscany, you probably envision vineyards planted with beautiful Sangiovese grapes in Chianti, rustic villas sitting atop hillsides and Michelangelo's David towering before you. You can imagine people sitting at outside cafes and sipping espresso while scooters zip by, creating the perfect romantic scene. Everyone wants a piece of Italy, no matter where you are and that's just what Angela and Benny Maksuti set out to capture at their restaurant, Tuscany, along the Des Moines River in the heart of Iowa.
"The interior has a rustic feel of the Tuscan countryside," Angela Maksuti said. "Our main dining room has the ambiance of sitting on a patio overlooking the landscape with a mural, hanging fountains, wood tables and brick walls."
The Maksutis renovated a former Wendy's when they moved Tuscany to Ottumwa in 2014 from Centerville, where they operated the restaurant since 2003. At the 150-seat Tuscany, Benny, who originally hails from Macedonia, showcases Italian dishes with Midwestern favorites to appeal to locals, including Angela, who was born and raised in Iowa. So the menu features pasta dishes alongside items like country-fried steak and the bar menu, which has some cocktails named for famous Italians like Sophia Loren and Frank Sinatra, features wines from both Tuscany and California to best match the cuisine.
"We are an authentic Italian American restaurant serving Italian food with a wide range of American favorites to accommodate anyone in the family," Angela said. "We haven't Americanized our Italian food. Our Alfredo sauce is a milk cream and not overpowered with too much cheese. Our marinara is like Grandma's tomato gravy made with slow-cooked plum tomatoes and seasoned with fresh spices. It's all from scratch. All the sauces are made in-house."
In fact, many of the ingredients, like lasagna sheets, ravioli and cannolis, are made in-house. Some pasta, like the fettuccine and spaghetti, get imported from Italy. Other specialties include chicken and shrimp carbonara; lasagna manicotti; lobster ravioli; and fried calamari. Angela said you'd need to travel an hour to find fried calamari like theirs. "That was part of our reason for coming here — so we could give the community something they didn't have," she added.
Tuscany owes much of its success to the community. The Maksutis realize that without their guests, they wouldn't be where they are. They train their staff to have a friendly and outgoing approach when interacting with diners and ensure the team is knowledgeable about the dishes and ingredients to give guests an optimal experience.
"We believe you need to treat everyone with respect," Angela said. "They're supporting you. You have to show gratitude and enhance their experience so they keep returning. There's always one of us here to greet and help our customers. If there's anything they're not happy with, we're here to personally take care of it. We want people to leave happy with a good experience."
Tuscany is a true family restaurant. Benny's mother, who taught him many of the recipes, works with them six months out of the year. One of their servers has been with them for 10 years. Two staff members got married to each other. It's what happens when you spend so much time together.
"Running a restaurant is part of who we are," Angela said. "Our dedication and life is wrapped around the restaurant. Food encompasses one's lifestyle and we're here to celebrate happy and sad times. We're here if people need to go out and lift their spirits."
- Author: Ari Bendersky
- Posted: January 04, 2017
- Categories: In Our Communities, VOL 5 - ISSUE 1 • WINTER 2017