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Tuesday, April 20, 1999

Beyond expectations

Posted on Tue, Apr 20, 1999 at 4:00 AM

Until recently, Apopka was a town with an erratic dining scene, not exactly a place where you would go in search of an epicurean adventure, Italian or otherwise. Now two years old, Caffe Positano reflects the changing face of Apopka, with its fine food prepared with passion, appreciation and flair.

Situated in an ordinary shopping plaza on Semoran Boulevard, Caffe Positano hums at lunchtime with sounds from the clamorous kitchen and echoes from customers filling up tables. Businessmen whip out cell phones while waiting for their orders, co-workers split pizzas, and suspended over it all is the aroma of spices, marinaras and thick, fresh-baked Italian loaves.

The menu items were consistently excellent on our visit. The pasta e fagioli soup ($4) had a silky quality, spiked with cannellini beans and bits of pasta. We loved the aggressive, meaty flavor in the thick broth.

An array of "pizzettes" may be one of Apopka's best-kept secrets. The "white pizzetta" ($6.25) was a standout with a touch of fresh garlic, and a fluffy bed of melted mozzarella and ricotta cheeses. We asked for spinach and broccoli as extras, and they added earthy textures and tastes without weighing it down. The crust was perfection, glazed with the sheen of olive oil and fired in the oven for a delicious crunch.

All of the entrees come with a choice of soup or salad, and I recommend one of the light, buoyant salads, topped with shaved petals of carrots and tossed with a delicate, almost floral, Italian dressing. Among the entrees, "veal zingarella" ($12) wins applause for its lemony undertones. It's sautéed in butter and white wine, so naturally it's rich and juicy. The tangy quality is carried a step further with capers and plump, tender artichokes. We couldn't get enough.

"Chicken mama mia" ($8.50) holds its own against a sautéed sauce of balsamic vinegar and a bare hint of cream. Shiitake mushrooms are sliced evenly and tossed on top for a rich finish.

For dessert, you can have the usual tiramisu or cannoli, but better yet try a tartuffo ($4.75), a baseball-sized scoop of chocolate and mocha ice cream, rolled in a crumbly blanket of chocolate cookies. It's served on its own dinner platter, surrounded by a zigzag necklace of chocolate syrup.

Apopka isn't exactly the crossroads of Orlando, but Caffe Positano's menu is so appealing that it rates a special trip, if necessary.

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