124 N. Park Ave., Winter Park
There's been no shortage of diners ready to storm the large glass-paned doors of executive chef Brandon McGlamery’s newest Park Avenue “it spot” – Prato. If the crowd amassed on both sides of the restaurant’s entrance is any indication, his legion of fans appears to be ballooning like Tom Colicchio’s ballsack.
They come to feast on Italy’s dynamic duo of carbs: pizza (wood-fired in Acunto ovens imported from Naples, Italy) and pasta (crafted in-house from scratch). Naturally, the restaurant partakes in the now de rigueur practice of sourcing local, seasonal and organic ingredients and proudly identifies a number of local farms as partners. The restaurant’s name, in fact, is taken from the Italian town known for its slow-food ethos, a town I recall passing, ironically, on a high-speed train going 224 miles per hour. But Winter Park is a far cry from Tuscany, so as we sat at a hickory high-top near – too near – the bar, we were surprised by the cacophonous clatter, the loose-lipped 30-somethings, the constant bumps to our chairs and the loud classic rock. But we found ourselves becoming oblivious to the chaos – it’s amazing what a moderately priced glass of super-Tuscan ($15) and some house-cured bresaola ($9) can do to redirect one’s attention. Each bite of the paper-thin meat crested with marinated red beets, citrusy arugula and hazelnuts served to neutralize the dissonance. Small quibble: The creamy horseradish drizzle was an unnecessary flourish, although that didn’t stop us from licking the plate clean.
Our bright and impressive young server, wearing a checked button-down and folded-over white apron, made it easy for us to put our complete trust in her recommendations – when the signature meatballs ($12) were brought to our table, one whiff told us we were smelling a winner. The orbs sat in a sauce sweetened with cipollini onions and punched up with the smoky essence of roasted tomatoes. Some “fresh-baked” focaccia was brought out for sopping, but warm it was not. Our pasta choice, a hearty Bolognese bigoli ($9 half; $16 full), was enriched by foie gras butter and a duck ragù, though marinating the fowl in bold Barolo wine may have purged the duck of its true essence – from what we tasted, the ragù could’ve been fashioned from beef, pork or chicken. Oven-roasted yellowtail snapper ($23.50) was arguably our server’s finest endorsement, and it exemplified the rustic roots from which McGlamery and head chef Matthew Cargo find inspiration. Dressed with fennel fronds, the mild white fish lay prone in a simple tomato broth spiked with Meyer lemon and busied with purple cauliflower, broccolini, celery, carrots and beans.
In keeping with the rustic edge, both desserts we sampled came in mason jars. The first, a chocolate-mint budino ($6), was wonderfully thick and anointed with olive oil and sea salt. The tiramisu ($6) was, in a word, perfect.
The oven (or “Johnny Cash,” as our server dubbed it) churned pizzas out of its “ring of fire” all night long, and though we didn’t get a chance to sample one of the pies, we figure that gives us a reason to return. Crowds and all, it’s a line we’re willing to walk.