By Rebecca Cahilly-Taranto
City & Shore Magazine
From Weston to Delray Beach, charming al fresco trattorias and romantic fine dining ristorantes bring Italian culture, charm and cuisine to South Florida. To sift through the options and present but a few is an arduous task. But oh, so delizioso.
189 Weston Road, Weston
Off the west coast of Italy, the island of Sardinia encapsulates the quintessential Italian lifestyle. Proximity to sea and mountains has shaped a unique food culture, which, in combination with a simple, fuss-free lifestyle, contributes to Sardinia’s designation (by author and National Geographic Fellow Dan Buettner) as one of the world’s “Blue Zones” – areas where people live the longest and report the greatest life satisfaction.
In the back corner of a bustling shopping plaza in Weston, Sardinia’s cuisine and culture have come to life at Zona Blu. In the kitchen, Sardinian-born Executive Chef Andrea Fadda and Sicilian Chef Marco Di Simone combine their talents and expertise to create an authentic and inspiring menu. Step inside to be instantly transported to a seaside terrazza, where the entire staff – from Pasquale, the Sardinian head waiter, to owners of Sardinian descent Debbie Marras Bautista and Sheila Marras David – treat you to a truly wonderful dining experience.
Menu musts: Chef Andrea’s signature appetizer, Soufflé al Pecorino, a soufflé of Sardinian pecorino cheese with roasted portobello mushrooms in a black truffle sauce; a bottle of Cannonau di Sardegna; and Seadas con Miele Sardo, a puff pastry filled with sweet cheese and drizzled with Sardinian honey – made daily by Debbie and Sheila’s mother.
522 E. Atlantic Ave., Delray Beach
There are plenty of excellent pizza choices in South Florida, but Scuola Vecchia gets our nod for its authentic Neapolitan pizza, ambience and the owners’ dedication to returning to Italy on a regular basis for training in Old World techniques.
Sharon Aloisio and her son, Shaun, imported the kitchen’s bell-shaped, wood-burning oven from Italy. They learned how to use it from renowned chef and Master Pizzaiuoli Roberto Caporuscio, certifying Scuola Vecchia as the only South Florida member of the Neapolitan Pizzamakers Association.
Menu musts: Sharon’s own Old World lasagna; the signature spicy olive oil; classic Neapolitan pizza, Regina Margherita; and any of Sharon’s homemade desserts (we love the Angioletti con Nutella).
Café La Buca
451 S. Cypress Road, Pompano Beach
Executive chef and owner Marco Spina and his mother, Maria, came to Florida with father Giorgio and sister Simona for one of their regular vacations, and decided to open a little restaurant. Nothing fancy, no set menu, just like it is back in Italy – come in, sit down, lemme make you a little plate to eat.
Menu musts: There’s no set menu at Café La Buca, just let Marco surprise you with the night’s specialties. Bring your own wine if you prefer, there is no corkage fee. Reservations are recommended.
Casa D’Angelo Ristorante
1201 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale
Consistently rated among the best fine Italian dining restaurants in South Florida, Casa D’Angelo features fine Tuscan and southern Italian-inspired dishes in an elegant atmosphere. Chef/owner Angelo Elia was born in Italy and worked his way up through restaurant kitchens in New York City before opening Casa D’Angelo in 1998. The venerable chef, who was recently inducted into the Nova Entrepreneur Hall of Fame, credits his grandmother for encouraging him to pursue a culinary career.
Menu musts: Veal chop paillard, grilled, with arugula and roasted pepper salad; anything with shaved truffles; homemade desserts – fluffy ricotta cheesecake or the crisp apple tarte with cinnamon ice cream.
3343 E. Oakland Park Blvd.,
“I’m just a neighborhood guy who cooks good Italian food, that’s all.” Steve Martorano grew up in Philadelphia, selling sandwiches out of his mother’s house. His passion for food led him to open Café Martorano in Fort Lauderdale in 1993 and today his brand includes five locations, books, an apparel collection and his own line of sauce “gravy.” The Fort Lauderdale location is where it all began, and on many nights you’ll see Steve in the open kitchen, cooking each dish and greeting his patrons as if they were guests of his home. The restaurant transforms into a pulsating hot spot after 9 p.m.
Menu musts: First rule: don’t ask for any substitutions or changes to your dish. Steve wants you to experience his Italian/American dishes his way. There’s the meatball with ricotta in Sunday gravy; the pasta that is imported and served perfectly al dente and the simply divine homemade desserts (hint, pistachio ice cream).
Cena Modern Italian
9 SE Seventh Ave., Delray Beach
Just off bustling Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach, Cena could be mistaken for a private home. This hidden gem’s Executive Chef, Antonio Montella, was born and trained in Italy. “My mom used to cook always a risotto with porcini mushrooms and fresh truffle,” he recalls. “I used to add parmigiano reggiano cheese, but one day we didn’t have any parmigiano cheese so I added a gorgonzola dolce. It tasted really good.” The recipe stuck and today Chef Antonio’s Risotto Con Gorgonzola & Porcini remains one of his own favorite dishes; “our patrons love it too.”
Menu musts: Stuffed zucchini flowers with a touch of gorgonzola, Pappardelle al Ragu’di Carne, with braised short ribs and chanterelle mushrooms in a Chianti demi glaze; Chef Antonio’s own Risotto Con Gorgonzola & Porcini, and the homemade tiramisu.
1901 S. Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach
Renowned Chef Clay Conley (būccan, Imoto) continues to take Palm Beach by storm and his latest opening, the rustic Italian Grato, sets the benchmark ever higher. Grato is Conley and his partners’ first restaurant in West Palm Beach and serves modern Italian fare for dinner nightly with a Sunday brunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Menu musts: Tuna Carpaccio with jasper tomatoes, egg and caper aioli; the handmade Bucatini Carbonara, and the Tuscan fresh berry crostata.
Mama Mia Restaurant
1818 S. Young Circle, Hollywood
When your Italian uncle, who happens to be a restaurateur himself, says Mama Mia is his favorite spot when visiting Hollywood, you’d be wise to check it out for yourself. Although Mama Mia’s executive chef, Yukie Horata, does not hail from Italy (in fact, she is Japanese), her culinary background is extensive and includes years as an executive chef in Italy. A mutual passion for traditional Italian food led owner Joseph Franco to bring Chef Yukie onboard and she delights in taking her guests on a culinary journey that celebrates Italian tradition with the sophisticated techniques of a celebrated chef. Double bonus – the restaurant is divided into Mama Mia on one side and a sushi restaurant on the other.
Menu musts: Portions are large, so arrive hungry. House-made garlic rolls, fried rice balls stuffed with mozzarella cheese, meat and green peas, braised short rib cannelloni.
331 Van Buren St., Hollywood
This 4-story Italian steakhouse is a true hidden gem, offering not only a unique location, but a uniquely exceptional dining experience. The Sardelli family have been local restaurateurs for over 30 years, Hollywood’s Fulvio’s 1900 and VINO both fall under the ownership. Patrons are greeted by the kitchen and then treated to delightful dishes alongside stellar service. From the parsnip soup amuse-bouche to the decadent homemade desserts, Chef/owner Fulvio Sardelli Jr. treats each customer to a truly delightful authentic Italian dining experience.
Menu musts: Calamari with vinegar peppers, pomodoro sauce and basil; Steak & Eggs – a 10 oz. Prime filet mignon topped with a pomodoro poached egg, mozzarella and a hint of truffle oil; mango panna cotta.
Learn the art of pizza making at private Pizza 101 classes hosted by Society 8 Hospitality Group’s Steven Dapuzzo. Held at SoLita & Mastino in Delray Beach and Beauty & the Feast Bar | Kitchen in Fort Lauderdale, Pizza Academy features group and private courses in the art of Neapolitan pie-making. These two-hour classes give guests an overview of the history and evolution of artisan pizza, a lesson on the art of hand-stretch dough and the correct techniques for building and topping a pizza. Guests will put their new skills to the test and can enjoy the results with a glass of wine or craft beer. Contact the restaurant directly to inquire about upcoming classes.
SoLita & Mastino
25 NE Second Ave., Delray Beach
Beauty & The Feast Bar | Kitchen
601 N. Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd., Fort Lauderdale