Islanders don’t have to travel far to immerse themselves in Italian culture, delectable food and wine, Old World accents, personable service and a warm ambiance with creative homey touches throughout.

Gusto Ristorante creates a memorable dining experience nightly at the Fresh Market Plaza on U.S. 278. Gusto also offers a special Sunday brunch and nightly specials that also can be enjoyed al fresco on the patio.

Since opening in April 2018, owner and executive chef Giancarlo Balestra and his wife, Nancy, have presented their loyal following with freshly-made dishes for their authentic northern Italian menu.

Even though Nancy is a New Jersey girl, Giancarlo is “100 percent Roman,” and his culinary training in some of the top kitchens in Rome attest to his knowledge, skill and creativity that he and his kitchen crew on the island showcase daily.

“You realize immediately that the restaurant is run by Italians and they cook like Italians,” Giancarlo said. “It’s a true Italian establishment. Then you feel the warmth of the place.”

“Restaurants reflect the owners,” said Nancy, who has been inside the culinary world her entire adult life, including being a chef on a yacht that cruised the Mediterranean and Caribbean. “It’s us. We wanted it to be like home, our home. It’s our favorite dishes.”

Giancarlo credits his master chef Rosario Limonio and floor captain Antonio Galati for infusing the restaurant with a sense of purpose and excellence. Both of them have been associated with the couple for 20 years.

The Balestra’s personal story could be taken from a Hollywood script or a Broadway play about how a young American woman and a young Roman man met and fell in love. Their passionate love affair with food, wine and travel was made to order.

They met 28 years ago when she was walking alone down a Roman street, lost while trying to find the Sistine chapel.

“At the same time Giancarlo was passing by on his scooter and he saw me and waited for me at the corner where I was heading,” she said. “I walked up to him for directions because I thought he was a tour guide or something. We’ve been together ever since. We’ve been a good team ever since.”

They got married in 1998 in Rome and moved to Palm Beach, Fla., where they still own a home. They opened restaurants in Aspen, Colo., Saratoga Springs, N.Y. and Winter Park, Fla.

On Hilton Head, Gusto’s menu is largely Roman based with other Italian influences, paired with Nancy’s suggestions to add veal and chicken parmesan, which Americans love.

Entrée prices range from $18-28 (Spaghetti alla Carbonara with Italian bacon, egg and Parmesan cheese; and Saltimbocca alla Romana with veal scallopine topped with fresh sage and prosciutto in a white wine butter sauce), starters from $9-20 and salads from $8-9.

Red and white wines, primarily Italian with a smattering of Napa selects, range in price from $38 to $380 per bottle.

Here’s how Giancarlo describes his perfect world: “We want to thank each and every one of our customers who walk through the door. We love this community. It’s a special place.”