by Sarah Southern
The perfect weekend staycation for you and your significant other is closer than you may realize. Located along Augusta’s brick-paved Riverwalk, overlooking the Savannah River and much of downtown is the locally owned and managed Augusta Marriott at the Convention Center, featuring Augustino’s Italian Eatery and Prime Steaks.
The 10th Street location is the epitome of affordable luxury with recently renovated rooms (in the first tower), brand-new mattresses, upgraded Wi-Fi, modern bathrooms and amenities, indoor and outdoor pools, easy access to the Riverwalk and Broad Street, Starbucks, Quizno’s, 100,000 square-feet of event space, and top-shelf hospitality devoted to each and every guest. By mid-March the second tower suite renovations will be completed and ready just in time for The Masters. Stay at the Augusta Marriott, and you’ll be within walking distance of the Morris Museum of Art, the Imperial Theatre and Miller Theater, local shops, bars, restaurants, and the Saturday morning farmers market by the river open March-November.
Augustino’s is conveniently housed on the hotel’s first floor, offering breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus as well as a full-service bar – ideal for staycation guests to enjoy a delicious meal and evening cocktail without leaving the establishment. Staff and guests agree, Augustino’s is not just a hotel restaurant, but rather a fine dining experience that happens to be housed within a hotel.
Executive Chef Craig LaPonzina has crafted a unique fusion of Southern Italian cuisine from build-your-own pizzas with scratch-made dough, to charcuterie and salumi served with house-cured meats and crusty homemade bread, exquisite pasta dishes, USDA Prime steaks, and an assortment of decadent desserts – most notably the ode-to-Georgia griddled peach pound cake topped with Georgia peach ice cream.
LaPonzina was born in New York and raised in Atlanta in a traditional Italian family. He attended the Culinary Institute in Atlanta and spent much of his career working in restaurants and traveling around the world, including an internship in Canberra, Australia. He’s been Augustino’s executive chef since 2010, and has spent the last nine years building a loyal team, experimenting with flavors and techniques, and introducing classic Italian American cuisine with a southern twist.
“It was a lot of hard work at first. Building a team that’s loyal to you is one of the challenges when you take over a property,” says LaPonzina. “There were standards I demanded and now I’m so happy and impressed with the way things run.”
LaPonzina spent his first six months overhauling the menu, changing dishes, consulting industry friends in New York for dough recipes and ingredient suggestions to recreate his favorite childhood Italian flavors.
“Italian food is comfort food to me. So the meat sauce that goes into a lasagna, the flavors I remember as a child growing up in a big Italian family are things that I’ve tried to bring here,” explains the chef. “I wanted to make pizza the way I remember from New York, so we sourced products from around the country that fit the bill.”
LaPonzina is adventurous with his culinary endeavors. His need for creativity led to revamping the Marriott’s basement into a curing chamber for charcuterie meats. LaPonzina, Sous Chef Norman Aldredge, and staff grow and pickle their own herbs and vegetables, with potential plans to add beehives to the Marriott’s roof in 2019.
“This restaurant has a history to it - we always want to see that we’re making good on the existing feel of the restaurant,” says Sous Chef Aldredge who oversees Augustino’s and works closely with LaPonzina on new initiatives and recipes. “We want to continue those traditions. It’s always a matter of keeping that competitive edge.”
When visiting the Augusta Marriott at the Convention Center and Augustino’s for a staycation and enjoying a meal with your special someone, LaPonzina recommends sharing the charcuterie (the perfect combination of salt, vinegar, fat, and a little sweet) served with assorted breads and house-cured sausages, salamis, and prosciutto paired with a few glasses of Pinot Noir.
“Try something you’ve never had and share it together. Order something that’s out of your wheelhouse. The meal should be fun - low pressure and low stress,” he says.
Augustino’s wine list is extensive, and on any given day restaurant manager and wine aficionado Duane Harris offers recommendations to guests looking for perfect pairings. Harris has a broad and comprehensive background as a former Marine, wine director, and prior owner of other restaurants. He achieved his Level One certification through the Court of Masters Sommeliers, “which means I know how to drink wine,” he says jokingly.
The Augusta Marriott at the Convention Center, in conjunction with Augustino’s, hosts a variety of special events and dinners throughout the year. Currently, the hotel is gearing up to “Ring in the New Year” with an exclusive New Year’s Eve event, which includes a deluxe guest room for two, an elegant dinner buffet (featuring Chef’s classic slow-roasted bourbon beef tenderloin carved to order) in the Oglethorpe Ballroom, four complimentary drinks, music by “The Tony Howard Show,” a midnight champagne toast, breakfast buffet, and late checkout.
“We are a Marriott, but we are locally owned and locally managed by a highly seasoned management team that’s proud of what we do here - that’s what sets this hotel apart,” says Morales. “We’re here to satisfy the needs of our customers.”
The Augusta Marriott is a small part of the world’s largest hotel company and is owned and managed by experienced individuals with deep ties to the community. The organization prides itself on providing superior service by demonstrating above-and-beyond hospitality and delivering on the motto, “Brilliant hosting starts with me.”
House-made pepper-infused vodka made with home-grown and seasonal chilis. Enjoy served in a Pepper Martini or Bloody Mary.
Roasted Garlic & Smoked Mozzarella Ravioli in pink vodka sauce and the Braised Beef Short Rib served with pappardelle pasta with wild mushroom glaze paired with II Brunone (Tuscany Italy) Chianti
**With only 300 reservations available, the special event sells out every year. Be sure to secure your spot by calling (706) 722-8900.
Oglethorpe Ballroom, featuring local artist Tony Howard
New Year’s Eve Menu
Happy Hour 7:00 P.M. to 8:00 P.M.
Antipasto & Charcuterie
Crafted sausages, salamis, prosciutto ham, olives, roasted red peppers, assorted breads, crackers and condiments
Variety of local, domestic and international cheeses with mini breads and crackers
Spinach and Artichoke Dip
With pita chips
Doors and Dinner Buffets Open 7:30 P.M. to 9:30 P.M.
Chilled Seafood Display
Jumbo shrimp, oysters on the half shell, smoked salmon with accoutrements (spicy cocktail, remoulade and mignonette sauce)
Caprese, fresh basil, tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and balsamic drizzle
Chilled asparagus and hearts of palm with Belgian endive and mignonette dressing
Spinach and mango, Georgia pecans, feta cheese and seasoned croutons with raspberry vinaigrette
Miso style honey glazed salmon
Chicken Diane with mushrooms, shallots, Dijon mustard and brandy cream sauce
Bourbon black pepper rubbed beef tenderloin
With mini rolls, caramelized onion and horseradish cream sauce
Whole green beans with peppers, onions and herbs
Ginger-lime baby carrots
Buttermilk smashed potatoes
Ice Cream Sundae Bar
Chocolate, vanilla and strawberry ice cream, cones and assorted toppings to include: whipped cream, chocolate sauce, caramel sauce, candy bars, nuts
Midnight Snack Sack
BBQ pulled pork sandwich or breakfast burrito
Bag of chips, cookie, bottled water