By Bob Albright
It’s Italian for “thank you.” It also happens to be the name of the bustling Italian restaurant at Four Oaks Country Club that is becoming as much a signature at the semi-private course in Dracut as its immaculate greens and sweeping views that span as far the Prudential and Hancock on a clear day.
And it might be safe to say that as golfers and local foodies alike leave Grazie each evening, they may want to thank owners Mike and Cindy Kuenzler — in Italian or English— for not only rescuing the scenic par-70, 6,268-yard golf course from bankruptcy in the fall of 2012, but for also bringing a succulent slice of Italy to the Merrimack Valley.
“Instead of focusing on one area, we’ve tried to focus on the course, beautify the course, and then enrich the entire building,” Mike Kuenzler said of the sprawling and well-appointed space that sits elevated above the course and houses the newly renovated 260-person Grand Oaks Ballroom, the pro shop, the Oaks Bar and Grille, and, of course, Grazie.
“Our philosophy so far has been to pour everything back into the business and build it to be something special,” Kuenzler added.
Stick a fork into Executive Chef Arben “Beni” Kurti’s signature Lobster Ravioli, and you will likely agree that Kuenzler’s vision has reached its tasty fruition. At the heart of Grazie stands a 6,000-pound wood-burning pizza oven that was shipped directly from Naples – Italy, not Florida – but all agree the most valuable import from the old country is Kurti, who was brought to the kitchen from his hometown of Perugia six years ago and has been wowing diners
Featuring all locally sourced ingredients, including spices and herbs Kurti grows on site, both Mike and Cindy say their favorite entree is his Slow Braised Short Ribs over Risotto.
“It’s very important to us that the customers are having a good experience,” Cindy noted. “To see them have a good time here and enjoy their experience and keep coming back means a lot to both of us.”
Grazie features entertainment Thursdays through Saturdays and has been expanded to accommodate 140, with tables and two large counters; reservations are strongly recommended.
From the intricate wine display cabinets behind the bar to the expansive granite countertops, there’s probably not a single design element at Grazie that Cindy sketched out on grid paper.
“It’s like a puzzle and you just put it together,” said Cindy, who did most of the design work and oversees restaurant operations. The couple, who live in Dracut, say they have almost achieved, if not surpassed, their original vision from when they first removed the Jersey barriers and rescued the troubled venue from bankruptcy nearly six years ago.
“Dracut never has had anything like this and we get huge support from the community, because it is something they want,” Mike said.
The healthy membership numbers at the semi-private club, busy tournament schedule, and the overflowing reservation book at Grazie back that up and are further proof that the championship golf course and its popular Italian restaurant is on the right track.
Or is it the other way around?
“It’s funny. I was at a high school basketball tournament game the other night,” said Four Oaks head golf pro Tony Martinho with a grin, “and a guy came up to me and said, ‘Hey, aren’t you that golf pro from that course where Grazie is?’”