Italian in Orlando

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    These days there are more ways than ever to slice a pizza. And Sicilian Pizzeria offers all the usual suspects, from seafood pizzas to barbecue, vegetarian and beyond.

    But their most impressive pie of all is the pizza ripiena, which is a gourmet double crust stuffed with fillings. Basically, they've taken the tried-and-true pizza and multiplied it by two. The pizza ripiena con carne ($18.95) is two 18-inch crusts stuffed with ham, salami, pepperoni, sausage and mozzarella. And con vegetali ($17.95) is with sautéed spinach, broccoli, ricotta and mozzarella. One bite, and you may have a habit on your hands.

    But their most impressive pie of all is the pizza ripiena, which is a gourmet double crust stuffed with fillings. Basically, they've taken the tried-and-true pizza and multiplied it by two. The pizza ripiena con carne ($18.95) is two 18-inch crusts stuffed with ham, salami, pepperoni, sausage and mozzarella. And con vegetali ($17.95) is with sautéed spinach, broccoli, ricotta and mozzarella. One bite, and you may have a habit on your hands.

    This casual, little joint also offers pastas, antipasti and "rolls" -- sandwiches full of cheeses and toppings wrapped in dough and baked. And they deliver.

    When you think "New York pizza," there's a particular expectation: a wood-fired oven, sweaty men toting pizza peels, crude language and fast service. Slice of New York on Dr. Phillips Boulevard meets some, if not all, of these expectations. The room looks like one of those bare-bones places in midtown that New Yorkers dive into on their walk to the subway. Except Slice of New York is too clean and traffic outside is not bustling with pedestrians, but just another parking lot.

    On my first trip to Slice, there were almost as many people hanging out behind the counter as in the dining room, all of them with thick Long Island brogues. As I walked up to the counter, I noticed a man who looked like my Uncle Jimmy gesticulating as he explained the specials. A pretty blonde sat placidly behind the register and took my order as Uncle Jimmy expounded on the virtues of marinara. It turns out the blonde, the only non-New Yorker in this enclave of Long Islanders, was our waitress, and she was not only syrupy-sweet but Ÿber-attentive.

    Pizza was the only thing on my agenda. Rumor had told me they make their dough from scratch and hand-toss it into a hot brick-stone oven: all true. The dough was deliciously crisp with a chewy mouth feel, but it needed more salt and longer fermentation to bring out the depths of flavor. The sauce was scant, but spurred an hour-long chat about the virtues of a perfect slice – a conversational habit my husband and I picked up while living in New York. We both agreed the sauce needed more body but the oregano made it decent. An abundance of quality mozzarella graced the top. A plethora of standard toppings are available, but we're purists and almost always order pepperoni ($10.75 small); not to be missed, however, is the Margarita ($10.95 small) with fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and basil.

    We couldn't help but order what were called "cowardly limbs from Buffalo" ($6.25 small), otherwise known as hot wings. Apparently, Uncle Jimmy explained, A Slice of New York needed a catchy way of selling their wings. It worked. Had I not spotted the wacky name, I would have skipped this fine specimen of poultry appendages covered in pungent, tangy heat.

    The salads, at first, looked like throw-togethers, but the dressings are homemade. We tried the house ($2.50), a toss of lettuce, black olives, pepperoncini, red onion, tomato and cucumbers. The veggies were fresh, but what really made the difference was the Italian dressing, full of dried herbs. Caesar salad ($5.50) had a creamy dressing, with a balance of garlic, a hint of anchovy and lemon.

    One dish that disappointed me was chicken piccata ($10.95). The chicken was nicely pounded into scaloppini and cooked well, while the sauce was loaded with fresh lemon, butter and capers with a touch of wine that the chef dramatically flambéed. My problem was that it came on a tangle of pasta with flaccid red onions and canned artichokes. I would have preferred this dish if they let the chicken stand alone, leaving all else for the side.

    A meatball sub ($6), however, was satisfying. They make their meatballs fresh daily according to a family recipe. Well-seasoned ground beef (and perhaps a bit of pork), these meatballs are the size of fists and only three fit on each sandwich. A bit of marinara and cheese is sprinkled over the top, and the whole thing is toasted. Good pizzeria fare.

    A Slice of New York is owned and operated by mother and son Jane Calfayan and Graig Cleary. This is Calfayan's third venture in the area; the first opened in 1998 in the UCF area. On a Disney vacation, she noticed a dearth of the Italian pizzerias so prevalent in her Long Island home, so she decided to fill the gap. I wouldn't say she quite accomplished that goal, but she did create an adequate neighborhood pizzeria.

    It's amazing how perceptions change. It used to be someone said "Soprano" and images of gowned women singing onstage leapt to mind. Now the only caterwauling anyone is familiar with is between Tony and Carmela.

    As far as I can tell, Sopranos "New York Style" Ristorante & Pizzeria owes its name to the vocal range, not The Family. Although The Boys probably would like it here.

    As far as I can tell, Sopranos "New York Style" Ristorante & Pizzeria owes its name to the vocal range, not The Family. Although The Boys probably would like it here.

    Sopranos is a big, Pizza-Hutty kind of place, and it is a family (small "f") spot, so be prepared for wandering children. There's a red florescent light around the perimeter of the ceiling, which casts an odd pinkish glow to everything, and signed photos hang on most of the walls, including that of the great Italian tenor Jerry Lewis. Yes, Deano is there, too.

    Sopranos is a big, Pizza-Hutty kind of place, and it is a family (small "f") spot, so be prepared for wandering children. There's a red florescent light around the perimeter of the ceiling, which casts an odd pinkish glow to everything, and signed photos hang on most of the walls, including that of the great Italian tenor Jerry Lewis. Yes, Deano is there, too.

    The menu is very large, with sauces of the parmigiana, scaloppini and marsala varieties covering the meat and eggplant choices. I liked several appetizers -- the fried calamari ($5.95) was superb, about as tender as any I've had in town. (Be sure to ask for lots of lemon, if you're like me and don't like it with tomato sauce.) It's not exactly an Italian dish, but the salmon carpaccio ($8.95) is another good choice, thin shavings of smoked salmon with lovely capers and onions, along with diced tomatoes drizzled with olive oil.

    The menu is very large, with sauces of the parmigiana, scaloppini and marsala varieties covering the meat and eggplant choices. I liked several appetizers -- the fried calamari ($5.95) was superb, about as tender as any I've had in town. (Be sure to ask for lots of lemon, if you're like me and don't like it with tomato sauce.) It's not exactly an Italian dish, but the salmon carpaccio ($8.95) is another good choice, thin shavings of smoked salmon with lovely capers and onions, along with diced tomatoes drizzled with olive oil.

    I wish that the squid in the "zuppa di pesce" ($14.95) was as tender as the appetizer, but it was a bit disappointing. Still, the dish itself was almost worth ordering just for the deeply flavored mussels, which benefited from a thick and not-too-sweet marinara spiked with wine. If I'd known that the squid were chewy and the shrimp on the small side, I would have just ordered the mussels alone.

    I wish that the squid in the "zuppa di pesce" ($14.95) was as tender as the appetizer, but it was a bit disappointing. Still, the dish itself was almost worth ordering just for the deeply flavored mussels, which benefited from a thick and not-too-sweet marinara spiked with wine. If I'd known that the squid were chewy and the shrimp on the small side, I would have just ordered the mussels alone.

    You'll find an excellent chicken piccata here, tender breasts in a sauce perfectly balanced between tart lemon and sweet wine. And, of course, more capers. (Is there a new industrial caper factory somewhere in the Midwest?)

    You'll find an excellent chicken piccata here, tender breasts in a sauce perfectly balanced between tart lemon and sweet wine. And, of course, more capers. (Is there a new industrial caper factory somewhere in the Midwest?)

    You can see the kitchen/staging area from the dining room, and this is where the takeout pizzas are boxed. I lost count at 10 people in that small space, and to watch the ballet, as they barely avoid each other, is entertainment.

    You can see the kitchen/staging area from the dining room, and this is where the takeout pizzas are boxed. I lost count at 10 people in that small space, and to watch the ballet, as they barely avoid each other, is entertainment.

    Service is good but easily distracted when the place gets busy. My advice: Order everything at once, because it may be a while until you see your server again.

    Service is good but easily distracted when the place gets busy. My advice: Order everything at once, because it may be a while until you see your server again.

    If you're looking for gourmet Italian, fuggetaboudit. Sopranos ain't the place. But you will get an undemanding and decent meal.

    Just call Stefano LaCommare the galloping gourmet. The itinerant chef has spread his brand of culinary philanthropy in all parts of the metro Orlando area, towing his loyal following along in the process. First it was the original Stefano's Trattoria in Winter Park; then it was the widely lauded Il Pescatore downtown; and now, he's set up shop in the corner of an out-of-the-way strip mall in Winter Springs, presumably to take advantage of the large space to house the hordes of rabid regulars packing the joint six nights a week.

    LaCommare's cartoonish brand of gregarious affability is in keeping with the familial and frenzied environment fostered by the entire clan, which includes daughter Antoniella, son Leonardo and wife Marie, who often greets patrons as they enter the cramped waiting room. (Reservations are not accepted, so if you're planning a visit here on the weekend, expect a 20- to 30-minute wait.) Stefano's animated Sicilian accent always seems to rise above the cacophony as he perambulates the restaurant, stopping to chat it up with his appreciative customers, most of whom sing the praises of his dishes.

    Dishes like the cozze marinara ($8), for example, which reflect LaCommare's fisherman roots. After downing more than a dozen of the delicately sweet mussels sautéed in garlicky tomato sauce, I dunked pieces of complimentary bread into the velvety marinara while waiting for the next dish to arrive.

    That dish, pizza margherita ($8), perplexed me somewhat. Every pizza margherita I've ever sampled has been decorated with basil leaves, but not so here. When asked about the absence of the royal herb, our waitress responded by saying, 'It's in the sauce,â?� but I could barely taste any basil at all. Deliberate? Or an oversight? Pizza margherita, I thought, was supposed to mimic the colors of the Italian flag ' red (tomatoes), white (mozzarella) and green (basil).

    There are an amazing number of entrees from which to choose ' veal, seafood, chicken, pastas of every imaginable type, including the build-your-own variety ' but the cannelloni Florentine ($11) proved to be another confounding, though ultimately tasty, number. The totally tubular pasta came filled with a mulch of spinach and ricotta smothered in a rich mozzarella-and-tomato sauce. A wonderful main course, no doubt, but the menu stated that 'meatâ?� (ground beef, as I later learned) was also part of the filler ' yet not a mince was present.

    I thoroughly enjoyed the special for the night, pollo summertime ($16): a corpulent chicken breast stuffed with yellow rice, zucchini, yellow squash, red peppers, carrots and pine nuts, then breaded and baked, and finally topped with a faintly sweet cherry-wine-mushroom sauce.

    From the dessert plate, I opted for the airy tiramisu ($3.50), which Stefano makes himself. I only wish there had been more spongy goodness to devour. The whipped ricotta filling with chocolate chips qualified the cannoli ($3.50) as sublimely indulgent; no surprise, seeing that the molto bene dolce is also a Stefano-made concoction. Chocolate corruption cake ($3.50) was moist and intense.

    My only knock against the service was that more than an hour passed before the entrees arrived, evidently because they had run out of the pre-made stuffed chicken breast and had to manufacture one from scratch. No worries, as it gave my stomach a chance to regain its original form, and my ears a chance to soak in Stefano's rollicking lilt.

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