Bodega Tapas, Wine and Rum in downtown Wake Forest is an intimate, sophisticated space, all warm wood and exposed brick, with accents of pressed tin and Prussian blue. These classic elements contrast and complement one another, and chef Nunzio Scordo’s menu follows the same philosophy—simple but not pedestrian ingredients cooked well and put together just so.
Scordo, who also owns Driftwood Southern Kitchen in Lafayette Village, opened the 60-seat Bodega last month in hopes of delivering a true tapas experience, with dishes inspired by his travels.
“I’m not looking to do the small-plate format in a sense of expensive, scaled-down versions of entrees,” Scordo says. “I want people to be able to come in for a glass of wine, get one or two little things to pick on, and then they can go home and, if they want to, they can eat dinner…It [is] food from Spain, France, Italy, South America…just really simple, flavorful things.”
Small plates range from $5-$10 and include lamb meatballs with Greek yogurt and green olive salsa, seared tuna with guajillo chile and toasted garlic, crispy yucca with a Peruvian yellow pepper sauce, empanada with sweet plantain and Cuban picadillo, and cider-braised pork belly with apple mostarda, among others. A few larger dishes are available, including a paella for two with clams, shrimp, chicken, chorizo and bomba rice in a shellfish and ham broth. Bodega’s dessert menu includes a baked whole sweet plantain, dulce de leche rice pudding and a spiced chocolate tart with hazelnuts. An extensive selection of wines by the glass, a housemade sangria and classic and inventive rum cocktails round out the menu.
Once the first Bodega is well-established, Scordo says he hopes to open more locations in similarly blossoming downtowns, including in Apex and Holly Springs. He’ll host more events at Driftwood Southern Kitchen, and will travel to Spain and Morocco for inspiration this summer.
Scordo first started cooking when he was 10, helping his Italian grandmother during the holidays. As a teenager, his first job was at a Youngstown, Ohio, fast food restaurant. After high school, he flirted with the idea of becoming an architect, but went to culinary school in Pennsylvania instead.
“When I started cooking, it was natural,” Scordo says. “I was like, ‘Okay, this is what I’m supposed to do with my life.’”
His work as a chef has taken him many places, first to a busy New Orleans-style restaurant and nightclub in Ohio, then on to Florida serving up “conch fusion” cuisine, a marriage of Asian and Latin American flavors. Scordo’s next stop was Birmingham, at the famous Hot and Hot Fish Club, and then at Highlands Bar and Grill, which recently won a James Beard Foundation Award. Back in Ohio, Scordo owned a short-lived restaurant (it closed during the 2008 economic downturn), then spent three years as executive chef for the largest privately owned catering company in the country.
A trip to Raleigh for a friend’s wedding convinced Scordo that this was the perfect spot for his next adventure. The City of Oaks felt like a place on the verge, he says, a place where good things were about to bloom. He took over Paparazzi in Lafayette Village, turning it into the neighborhood Italian restaurant Farina, which he recently sold. When a space opened in the same shopping center, Scordo opened Driftwood; it will celebrate its fifth anniversary this month.
Scordo got his passport just two years ago and has been making up for lost time. He visited Belize and Costa Rica twice, and, last summer, booked an open-ended ticket to Italy, where he spent five weeks traveling solo, visiting Rome, Assisi, Florence and Milan, and ancient villages, olive groves and oil presseries along the way.
“I went all around, up and down the coast, everywhere and anywhere I could cover in a month,” he says. “I drove 2,600 miles, literally not knowing where I was going the next day. I would [reserve] an Airbnb while I was on the road. It was amazing, unbelievable.”
During his trip, Scordo sampled hyper-local cuisines and spent hours learning about balsamic vinegar in a family-owned factory in Modena, where a barrel of 150-year-old vinegar has been passed down through generations.
“They let me taste a droplet and it was like drinking balsamic sap from a tree,” Scordo recalls. “It was thick and rich and sweet, but not overly so, with some acidity to it and smokiness from the wood.”
Learn more about Scordo’s newest venture at bodegawakeforest.com.