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    It's interesting watching the whole "back-to-downtown" movement, not just here but all across the country. I'm not sure if it's dissatisfaction with suburban sprawl or a far-reaching desire for community, but people all over the country are heading back into the hearts of cities large and small.

    We see it here, and the amount of renovation work going on in Sanford means we're not alone. Where downtowns flourish, restaurants can't be far behind. Case in point, Da Vinci.

    We see it here, and the amount of renovation work going on in Sanford means we're not alone. Where downtowns flourish, restaurants can't be far behind. Case in point, Da Vinci.

    Da Vinci's chef and co-owner Kenny Stingone has a long and impressive career of feeding folks in the area. He has chef'd (is that a word?) at Bistro Capuccino, had a stint at Park Plaza Gardens in the mid-'80s and held the chef's spot at Café de France a couple of times. Upon that firm pedigree rests this first place of his own, nestled in the slowly revamping Magnolia Square section of downtown.

    Da Vinci's chef and co-owner Kenny Stingone has a long and impressive career of feeding folks in the area. He has chef'd (is that a word?) at Bistro Capuccino, had a stint at Park Plaza Gardens in the mid-'80s and held the chef's spot at Café de France a couple of times. Upon that firm pedigree rests this first place of his own, nestled in the slowly revamping Magnolia Square section of downtown.

    Co-owner Holliday Stingone, who led me to a table under one of several massive crystal chandeliers, asked how I found the place, and I had to answer truthfully – with difficulty. Because of one-ways and construction, you can't really get to Magnolia Square without making a good number of right-and left-turn combinations. I'd suggest Da Vinci for lunch first, just to see how to get there. The space itself is an old colonial-revival building with very high tin ceilings and aged walls. It's fitting to house what Chef Stingone calls his "Mediterranean-inspired" cuisine.

    Co-owner Holliday Stingone, who led me to a table under one of several massive crystal chandeliers, asked how I found the place, and I had to answer truthfully – with difficulty. Because of one-ways and construction, you can't really get to Magnolia Square without making a good number of right-and left-turn combinations. I'd suggest Da Vinci for lunch first, just to see how to get there. The space itself is an old colonial-revival building with very high tin ceilings and aged walls. It's fitting to house what Chef Stingone calls his "Mediterranean-inspired" cuisine.

    The "inspired" part means that some dishes, like the hearty and generous zuppa di pesce ($17.95), with fish, calamari and shellfish basted in spicy tomato, are quite authentic. Other items take creative liberties. I was pleased to see a non-veal alternative to saltinbocca made with chicken ($15.95), which featured a tender fillet with mozzarella and heaps of spinach. Pleased, that is, until I tried to chew through the thick slab of prosciutto gracing the top. "Shrimp Adriatic" ($15.95) was a better choice, huge shrimp combined with spinach and spicy sauce, then topped with crumbled feta cheese that gave it a tang. A couple of the shrimp had seen better days, but it was a good dish. The "escargot fricassee" appetizer ($5.95), rich snails in crustini with lemon butter and cheese, reminded me of dark woods and was very satisfying.

    The "inspired" part means that some dishes, like the hearty and generous zuppa di pesce ($17.95), with fish, calamari and shellfish basted in spicy tomato, are quite authentic. Other items take creative liberties. I was pleased to see a non-veal alternative to saltinbocca made with chicken ($15.95), which featured a tender fillet with mozzarella and heaps of spinach. Pleased, that is, until I tried to chew through the thick slab of prosciutto gracing the top. "Shrimp Adriatic" ($15.95) was a better choice, huge shrimp combined with spinach and spicy sauce, then topped with crumbled feta cheese that gave it a tang. A couple of the shrimp had seen better days, but it was a good dish. The "escargot fricassee" appetizer ($5.95), rich snails in crustini with lemon butter and cheese, reminded me of dark woods and was very satisfying.

    Da Vinci's is almost exactly 20 miles from downtown Orlando, a trip that probably takes less time than the aggravating trek to Disney. If you have a gas-guzzling SUV, that's about $6 for fuel plus around $60 for dinner for two in a slightly funky, potentially wonderful, as yet undiscovered restaurant. Seems like a bargain to me.

    Here's something you don't see every day: a pizzeria in Orlando. OK, so maybe there are quite a few pizza joints. Doesn't mean a person can't keep hoping for perfection.

    Dom's Pizza (5075 Edgewater Drive, 407-298-8998; www.domspizza.com) isn't quite perfection. Biting into a slice of their classic thin crust, I thought the sauce was a little too salty, the crust had an almost pretzel-like consistency, and the cheese was spread on way too thick. And I liked it. A lot. Somehow the combination works, and I'll eagerly return for more.

    Dom's Pizza (5075 Edgewater Drive, 407-298-8998; www.domspizza.com) isn't quite perfection. Biting into a slice of their classic thin crust, I thought the sauce was a little too salty, the crust had an almost pretzel-like consistency, and the cheese was spread on way too thick. And I liked it. A lot. Somehow the combination works, and I'll eagerly return for more.

    You'll also find specialty pizzas like the Drew Show, named after a certain radio personality, that's really a Philly cheesesteak-and-onions pie, a combination that seems so logical I'm surprised everyone doesn't do it. Hot and cold subs, calzones and oven-baked pasta round out the offerings. Now someone explain the Sound of Music cast photo on the wall.

    It was about 7:30 p.m. on a Saturday, and Enzo's on the Lake was in its glory. Most of the tables were filled. Waiters glided through the dining areas bearing trays of Italian delicacies that perfumed the room. As the sunlight faded over Fairy Lake outside, soft candles in the restaurant threw a golden blush on the pale walls, which were filled with Picasso-style portraits. The sounds of Sade struck a note of serenity that seemed, on the surface of things, to define the mood.

    But all was not as it seemed. The couple at the table next to us were debating whether to get up and leave. Having been seated 20 minutes prior, they still hadn't received a bread basket or a menu. I've heard reports of long waits at Enzo's, but we received plenty of attention from our charming waiter during most of the dinner. It was later when we found ourselves waiting about 20 minutes too long for the check, something that's not easy to overlook when you're paying upward of $100 at a restaurant that maintains its reputation as one of the area's best.

    Such are the apparent contradictions of Enzo's on the Lake, a stunningly beautiful and sophisticated restaurant, oddly situated on a section of Highway 17-92 in Longwood that's clogged with convenience stores, gas stations and supermarkets. The restaurant's culinary reputation is impeccable, and we tasted the proof. But it's also the lakefront setting, lush with old Florida foliage, that draws people from metro Orlando and beyond.

    Our waiter had a crisp Italian accent, and it only whets the appetite to hear lilting, lyrical descriptions of zuppa del giorno (soup of the day) and to hear shrimp referred to as gamberoni.

    We started off with a huge platter filled with cozze (mussels), peeking out of glossy, black shells ($9.80). There was a classic broth of white wine, tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and a touch of red pepper. The simple treatment enhanced the tender flavors of the mussel flesh. Next we tried the traditional wedding soup (pastina in brodo, $4.75), a clear consomme in which floated delicate veal meatballs, pasta and chopped carrots and celery.

    Gamberoni alla verdure is an excellent choice for shrimp lovers ($25). Four jumbo shrimp are accented by a sauce of Pernod French liqueur, served alongside a dome of moist spinach risotto. And the ravioli al sugo entree is notable mainly for the wide, flat pasta pillows that are lightly stuffed with spinach, chicken and ricotta ($17.50). The accompanying Neapolitan veal sauce is a specialty of owner Enzo Perlini.

    Dessert would have been nice, but we grew tired of waiting for the check and settled for a cappuccino instead.

    Although you may experience some delays in service while navigating the menu, Enzo's offers dinners to remember – visually, as well as tastefully.

    Bryan Miller honored his Uncle Giovanni; he named his latest restaurant after him. Miller, an original owner of Positano's on Orlando's westside, and the Nikolaja brothers (whose family and recipes hail from Northern Italy) have enjoyed a successful year at their latest venue, Giovanni's Italian Restaurant & Pizzeria.

    Located in the University Palms Shopping Center, it's bright and immaculate with minimalist décor: small tiles of ceramic floor covering, comfy booth seating, pale walls, a wide window-front, a few pictures, some plants, a shiny deli case, and BUSTLE. Our busy server was friendly, in that brash New York kind of way, and after a too-long wait for bread and water, she was efficient.

    Located in the University Palms Shopping Center, it's bright and immaculate with minimalist décor: small tiles of ceramic floor covering, comfy booth seating, pale walls, a wide window-front, a few pictures, some plants, a shiny deli case, and BUSTLE. Our busy server was friendly, in that brash New York kind of way, and after a too-long wait for bread and water, she was efficient.

    Appetizers ($3.95-$5.95) range from simple mozzarella sticks ($4.25) to the chef's baked clams oreganata ($5.95). We shared an enjoyable version of tomato bruschetta, heaped with diced tomatoes that actually tasted like tomatoes and crumbles of not-too-salty mozzarella.

    Appetizers ($3.95-$5.95) range from simple mozzarella sticks ($4.25) to the chef's baked clams oreganata ($5.95). We shared an enjoyable version of tomato bruschetta, heaped with diced tomatoes that actually tasted like tomatoes and crumbles of not-too-salty mozzarella.

    Salad lovers can choose from standard favorites ($2.50-$6.95): Caesar, spinach, chicken, tuna or chef. Our house salads were a fresh mix of greens, tomato, cucumber and carrots.

    Salad lovers can choose from standard favorites ($2.50-$6.95): Caesar, spinach, chicken, tuna or chef. Our house salads were a fresh mix of greens, tomato, cucumber and carrots.

    We looked forward to the soup course ($2.50) that chilly night and tried the minestrone. It did the job, acceptable in a nondescript sort of way.

    We looked forward to the soup course ($2.50) that chilly night and tried the minestrone. It did the job, acceptable in a nondescript sort of way.

    There's an interesting menu division of pastabilities: ziti, spaghetti or linguini can be had with any of seven sauces ($6.50-$7.75), from broccoli in garlic and oil to traditional tomato. A half-dozen baked pasta recipes ($7.25-$7.95) include those combinations you know and love: stuffed shells, ravioli, lasagna.

    There's an interesting menu division of pastabilities: ziti, spaghetti or linguini can be had with any of seven sauces ($6.50-$7.75), from broccoli in garlic and oil to traditional tomato. A half-dozen baked pasta recipes ($7.25-$7.95) include those combinations you know and love: stuffed shells, ravioli, lasagna.

    For the eight-item "pasta alla Giovanni" list ($8.50-$8.95), try the capellini primavera in a nicely spiced light sauce. For heartier appetites, the paglia fieno papalina combines green and white pasta with ham, mushrooms and peas, all in a tomato sauce with cream.

    For the eight-item "pasta alla Giovanni" list ($8.50-$8.95), try the capellini primavera in a nicely spiced light sauce. For heartier appetites, the paglia fieno papalina combines green and white pasta with ham, mushrooms and peas, all in a tomato sauce with cream.

    Among the calzones, the vegetarian version ($5.75) was a tasty, steaming combination of green peppers, spinach, broccoli, mushrooms, olives and onions.

    Among the calzones, the vegetarian version ($5.75) was a tasty, steaming combination of green peppers, spinach, broccoli, mushrooms, olives and onions.

    Unlike most aficionados of Italian food, I'm not a tiramisu freak, but I have to say Giovanni's version ($3.25) could make me convert.

    Unlike most aficionados of Italian food, I'm not a tiramisu freak, but I have to say Giovanni's version ($3.25) could make me convert.

    Importantly, the owner is on the premises here, and – especially with an eye toward a franchise business – aims to please. And if he promised Uncle Giovanni that in his name he'd dish up family-type food, he's done him right.

    We didn't make the connection at first, but anytime you visit Heathrow, the community where frozen-pizza baron Jeno Paulucci has played such a pivotal role for more than a decade, you can assume he's somehow involved. Luigino's Pasta and Steak House is indeed Paulucci's brain child, taking its title from his formal name. (Jeno's Pasta and Steak House definitely would not suit this upscale restaurant.)

    Even though it's set in a shopping plaza and mini-office park, Luigino's initially strikes you with the look and tone of a country club. Enter through the polished glass doors into the mahogany-accented foyer to be led to table in the dining room, which is dominated by expansive waterfront views of palatial homes and golf-course links. Add to that the Continental menu with entrees that top out at $29.95, and this restaurant would seemingly qualify as a selection for special occasions.

    Even though it's set in a shopping plaza and mini-office park, Luigino's initially strikes you with the look and tone of a country club. Enter through the polished glass doors into the mahogany-accented foyer to be led to table in the dining room, which is dominated by expansive waterfront views of palatial homes and golf-course links. Add to that the Continental menu with entrees that top out at $29.95, and this restaurant would seemingly qualify as a selection for special occasions.

    But we quickly got over the imposing setting and relaxed when we found the mood to be lively and casual, with diners dressed in khakis and oxfords. And the couple at the next table felt comfortable enough to engage us in a friendly conversation about what another table had ordered.

    But we quickly got over the imposing setting and relaxed when we found the mood to be lively and casual, with diners dressed in khakis and oxfords. And the couple at the next table felt comfortable enough to engage us in a friendly conversation about what another table had ordered.

    The menu is up to par, as we discovered, beginning with our appetizers. My guest's "antipasto misto" ($8.95) was a delicious presentation of a platter of the best cuts of tender, salty prosciutto, salami slices, ham and mozzarella. A luscious, marinated artichoke was carved open to reveal a firm, meaty center. We also enjoyed "calamari fritti," priced rather low at $5.95. The calamari rings were curiously narrow and slender, but the fried batter was light-tasting with a hint of "pomodoro" sauce.

    The menu is up to par, as we discovered, beginning with our appetizers. My guest's "antipasto misto" ($8.95) was a delicious presentation of a platter of the best cuts of tender, salty prosciutto, salami slices, ham and mozzarella. A luscious, marinated artichoke was carved open to reveal a firm, meaty center. We also enjoyed "calamari fritti," priced rather low at $5.95. The calamari rings were curiously narrow and slender, but the fried batter was light-tasting with a hint of "pomodoro" sauce.

    There is a substantial pasta menu that includes primavera versions of penne dishes and a delicious lobster ravioli ($18.95) that's seasoned with saffron and topped with a pink sauce of shiitake mushrooms. But my guest raved about the frutti di mare ($23.95), which included a sautéed jumble of lobster, shrimp, clams, scallops, mussels and calamari. These were served over a bed of linguine with a surprisingly delicate marinara sauce. We also enjoyed "filet Guiseppe" ($24.95), a dish reminiscent of beef Wellington. The filet mignon was stuffed with prosciutto and cheeses that were a bit too salty, but it was baked in a towering puff pastry and served with bordelaise and béarnaise sauce.

    There is a substantial pasta menu that includes primavera versions of penne dishes and a delicious lobster ravioli ($18.95) that's seasoned with saffron and topped with a pink sauce of shiitake mushrooms. But my guest raved about the frutti di mare ($23.95), which included a sautéed jumble of lobster, shrimp, clams, scallops, mussels and calamari. These were served over a bed of linguine with a surprisingly delicate marinara sauce. We also enjoyed "filet Guiseppe" ($24.95), a dish reminiscent of beef Wellington. The filet mignon was stuffed with prosciutto and cheeses that were a bit too salty, but it was baked in a towering puff pastry and served with bordelaise and béarnaise sauce.

    The wait staff was watchful throughout the meal; water goblets and coffee cups stayed full, and leftovers were discreetly boxed up and presented with the check. Luigino's Pasta and Steak House may not break new culinary ground, but on the north side of town, it stands out for its consistently delicious menu and picturesque setting.

    When you grow up in an Italian family, dining out rarely means Italian food. Why go to a restaurant if Mom makes it better at home? The sole exception for us were occasional visits to a nearby family-owned joint. Besides an acceptably rich marinara, it offered more entrees than Mom's recipe file, semiformal waiters and an unintendedly kitschy dining room boasting the aggressive bad taste second-generation 65-year-olds find comforting. ("Look, hon, these plastic flowers never need watering!") Perhaps this is why dining at Peppino's feels like so familiar to me.

    Located waaaaay out east in Oviedo (two miles north of University, at 434 and Carigan), Peppino's had been around for 13 years, though it looks sprung from Astoria, Queens, circa 1972. There's is nothing remotely trendy within these walls or on the menu. But if you want traditional Italian fare in a place that your parents -- or at least my parents -- would love, Peppino's fills the ticket nicely.

    Located waaaaay out east in Oviedo (two miles north of University, at 434 and Carigan), Peppino's had been around for 13 years, though it looks sprung from Astoria, Queens, circa 1972. There's is nothing remotely trendy within these walls or on the menu. But if you want traditional Italian fare in a place that your parents -- or at least my parents -- would love, Peppino's fills the ticket nicely.

    For a recent dinner, a friend and I started with two appetizers, "escargot cognac" ($6.50) and "zuppa di mussels" ($6.95). The escargot, sautéed in a butter/garlic sauce and served in mushroom caps, were only average. The sauce and the texture of the mushrooms overwhelmed the escargot. On the other hand, the mussels, served on the half-shell, were plump and tasty, kicked up nicely by a spicy marinara sauce.

    For a recent dinner, a friend and I started with two appetizers, "escargot cognac" ($6.50) and "zuppa di mussels" ($6.95). The escargot, sautéed in a butter/garlic sauce and served in mushroom caps, were only average. The sauce and the texture of the mushrooms overwhelmed the escargot. On the other hand, the mussels, served on the half-shell, were plump and tasty, kicked up nicely by a spicy marinara sauce.

    For a second appetizer, we opted for a small "pizza primavera" ($7.95), topped with sausage, onions, mushrooms and sliced tomatoes. The crust was perfect, crisp on the bottom and substantial without being doughy, and the toppings were so fresh they made your mouth tingle (especially the sausage). This pizza was the surprise hit of the evening.

    For a second appetizer, we opted for a small "pizza primavera" ($7.95), topped with sausage, onions, mushrooms and sliced tomatoes. The crust was perfect, crisp on the bottom and substantial without being doughy, and the toppings were so fresh they made your mouth tingle (especially the sausage). This pizza was the surprise hit of the evening.

    For entrees, my friend ordered the "shrimp and scallop bianca" ($15.95), while I called for the "chicken a la Maria" ($13.95). Both were excellent, but the chicken was a clear winner on both our cards. The bianca, served over linguine, offered a delectable white-wine-and-butter sauce and robust scallops, but the shrimp were a tad overcooked and rubbery. On a different night, this would have been fantastic, but during our visit it was merely good.

    For entrees, my friend ordered the "shrimp and scallop bianca" ($15.95), while I called for the "chicken a la Maria" ($13.95). Both were excellent, but the chicken was a clear winner on both our cards. The bianca, served over linguine, offered a delectable white-wine-and-butter sauce and robust scallops, but the shrimp were a tad overcooked and rubbery. On a different night, this would have been fantastic, but during our visit it was merely good.

    The chicken, wisely recommended by our excellent waiter, was a huge portion of rolled chicken breast cut in four pieces and stuffed with spinach, cheese and spices and served in a hearty "pink" sauce. (It looked more light brown to me, but maybe that was the lighting.) Coated with a thin (perhaps egg?) batter, the meat was succulent and moist without a hint of greasiness.

    The chicken, wisely recommended by our excellent waiter, was a huge portion of rolled chicken breast cut in four pieces and stuffed with spinach, cheese and spices and served in a hearty "pink" sauce. (It looked more light brown to me, but maybe that was the lighting.) Coated with a thin (perhaps egg?) batter, the meat was succulent and moist without a hint of greasiness.

    One tip for dining at Peppino's: Trust your waiter's recommendations. We noticed that everything he suggested was excellent, or turned out to be excellent when it was served to another table after we chose something else. If you do that -- and order a pizza -- you'll immensely enjoy this Oviedo tradition.

    We were waiting for a table at Romano's Macaroni Grill, and we had plenty of company. Flurries of customers milled around the front door and lined up in groups on the sidewalk outside, prepared for one hour waits. We had chosen to bide our time in the bar, lulled into complacent resignation by Peroni beers and frozen Bellinis. We stifled hunger pangs as we watched a full house chowing on pastas, grilled meats and wood fired pizzas that came from the bustling exhibition kitchen.

    And then something happened that really got our attention. Five tables opened up right in the middle of the restaurant. Then they stayed open -- for five minutes, then 10. It was excruciating to watch them go unclaimed in the middle of a restaurant where people were clamoring to be seated. When our mobile "Macaroni" beeper never signaled us, we went back to the hostess to ask if anyone was going to be seated at the empty tables. But she told us our turn would come soon, and directed us back to the bar.

    And then something happened that really got our attention. Five tables opened up right in the middle of the restaurant. Then they stayed open -- for five minutes, then 10. It was excruciating to watch them go unclaimed in the middle of a restaurant where people were clamoring to be seated. When our mobile "Macaroni" beeper never signaled us, we went back to the hostess to ask if anyone was going to be seated at the empty tables. But she told us our turn would come soon, and directed us back to the bar.

    When a restaurant can flubs the seating arrangements like that and still remain so filled with customers, it's obviously doing something right. And Romano's Macaroni Grill is the kind of Italian restaurant that lots of people like. It's noisy, fun, fast-paced and filled with lavish Italian food at neighborhood prices. The setting is spacious, rustic and casual with stone walls, lights strung overhead, fresh flowers all around, waiters who occasionally belt out "Happy Birthday" serenades in Italian, and wine that flows. Jugs of house wine are on the honor system at $3.29 a glass. Bread is limitless too, and it's always hot, crusty, and plentiful, served with a dipping plate of olive oil, shredded parmesan and pepper.

    When a restaurant can flubs the seating arrangements like that and still remain so filled with customers, it's obviously doing something right. And Romano's Macaroni Grill is the kind of Italian restaurant that lots of people like. It's noisy, fun, fast-paced and filled with lavish Italian food at neighborhood prices. The setting is spacious, rustic and casual with stone walls, lights strung overhead, fresh flowers all around, waiters who occasionally belt out "Happy Birthday" serenades in Italian, and wine that flows. Jugs of house wine are on the honor system at $3.29 a glass. Bread is limitless too, and it's always hot, crusty, and plentiful, served with a dipping plate of olive oil, shredded parmesan and pepper.

    The kitchen doesn't stint on portions, either. "Fonduta Gamberi" ($6.99) is just what the name suggests in Italian: A ravishing fondue of shrimp, artichoke hearts and spinach, roasted into a melted mess with Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses. It's appetizer heaven with a heap of garlic toast wedges.

    The kitchen doesn't stint on portions, either. "Fonduta Gamberi" ($6.99) is just what the name suggests in Italian: A ravishing fondue of shrimp, artichoke hearts and spinach, roasted into a melted mess with Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses. It's appetizer heaven with a heap of garlic toast wedges.

    "Pizza di Pollo Barbacoda" is another winning choice: A wood-fired pizza on a thin, chewy crust with vigorous toppings of barbecued chicken, pecorino and mozzarella cheese ($7.49). It manages to be light and filling at the same time.

    "Pizza di Pollo Barbacoda" is another winning choice: A wood-fired pizza on a thin, chewy crust with vigorous toppings of barbecued chicken, pecorino and mozzarella cheese ($7.49). It manages to be light and filling at the same time.

    "Scaloppine di Salmone" salmon fillet ($12.99) is a winning entree that leaves a citrus impression, sauteed with fresh lemon butter. It's adorned with capers, tomatoes and fresh bright basil. But on the night we visited, the accompanying bowl of linguine had no flair whatsoever. It looked and tasted like someone had dumped it out of a pot to get it out to the table in a hurry. And the "Ravioli Formaggi" only hinted at the asiago, parmesan cheeses that were stuffed into the pasta, because the roasted garlic cream sauce had been drenched with a heart-stopping dose of salt.

    "Scaloppine di Salmone" salmon fillet ($12.99) is a winning entree that leaves a citrus impression, sauteed with fresh lemon butter. It's adorned with capers, tomatoes and fresh bright basil. But on the night we visited, the accompanying bowl of linguine had no flair whatsoever. It looked and tasted like someone had dumped it out of a pot to get it out to the table in a hurry. And the "Ravioli Formaggi" only hinted at the asiago, parmesan cheeses that were stuffed into the pasta, because the roasted garlic cream sauce had been drenched with a heart-stopping dose of salt.

    Popularity notwithstanding, Romano's Macaroni Grill doesn't belong in the big leagues of Italian restaurants. It's so busy being sought after that when customers start flooding in, the kitchen stops sweating the details. Best to try this restaurant when it's not quite so busy, and the heady flavors of Tuscany are more dependable. In the meantime, if you're looking for ultimate Italian breads and grilled Tuscan meats, your search has ended.

    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.

    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.

    You've experienced this scene before. An absurdly attentive waiter with a thick Italian accent keeps returning to a flabbergasted customer's table, bearing plate after plate of delicacies in quantities no ordinary diner could possibly deserve.

    Got it? It's a bit in Albert Brooks' great film comedy Defending Your Life. ("You like pies? I'm a-gonna bring you nine pies.") Now, Altamonte-area gourmands get to experience the fantasy for real with the opening of Terramía Winebar/Trattoria, restaurateur Rosario Spagnolo's follow-up to Winter Park's Allegria. And as in Brooks' vision, the beautiful excess starts with the very first course.

    At least it does if you opt for the trademark "antipasto Terramía" ($8.50), the first in a series of lucky orders we placed on a recent visit. We were beyond pleased with the initial plateful of warm-up foods, which ran the gamut from succulent roasted peppers to an octopus and-cucumber medley that was delightfully chewy. But no sooner had we conquered that formidable array than our waiter arrived brandishing a second platter of bruschetta with a variety of toppings, including savory chopped mushrooms and a terrific corn polenta with a full-bodied, cheesy flavor. We glanced toward a table to the immediate right of the front door, where all the available antipasto items were laid out for perusal. The sight made us worry that we'd be fending off new arrivals until kingdom come. Where would we find room for the nine pies?

    It was all we could do to dig into the "insalata Terramía" ($5.50), whose sun-dried tomato vinaigrette turned out to be that sought-after miracle of salad dressings: oily in taste but not in texture.

    We recovered in time for the entrees. We noticed that our chosen pasta dish, the homemade tagliolini with grilled shrimp and cherry tomatoes ($14.50), was served in a tortilla shell that struck us as more south-of-the-border than Mediterranean. Our waiter, acknowledging the incongruity, said the flaky horn of plenty was mostly "for show." (Eat it anyway.)

    The tasty dish arrived on two plates, simply because we had mentioned our desire to share our meal. Impressive. Similar bifurcation was visited upon the roasted chicken breast ($13.50), whose embellishment with Parma prosciutto and fontina cheese enhanced its mouth-watering moistness. In each case, the "sharing plate" could have passed for a full order.

    That aura of lavishness persisted unto dessert, with the berry cake ($5.95) overflowing with fruit. The creamy cannoli ($5.95) was separated into portions of about two bites each – perhaps in recognition of the dining axiom that, all other things being equal, folks don't feel so guilty about wolfing down food that comes in sections.

    The excellence of the service was codified during the coffee course, when our waiter took it upon himself to replace the saucer right out from under our cup, merely because he noticed that it had been defiled by spilled beverage. Yeah, that sort of thing can just ruin a dinner.

    If you can manage to avert your gaze from your plate at any time during your meal – and somehow, we managed to – you'll notice that Terramía's interior design makes the most of its location in an Altamonte strip mall ("just past Pebbles," a voice on the phone had clarified – talk about being unafraid of the competition). Laid out in an L-shaped arrangement that makes the halves of the seating area nearly invisible to each other, it's lit predominantly by low-hanging, red-hued fixtures that impart a mood of cozy intimacy. The room is dominated by a large wooden bar bearing bottles upon bottles of the vino that accounts for 50 percent of the establishment's identity. (Confused? Check out that name again.) But there's still room in the corner for a musician to wheeze background melodies out of everybody's favorite instrument, the accordion. (Look carefully, and you may notice that the music doesn't always stop exactly when he does. Technology: It's a good thing.)

    Still, authenticity is a big issue at Terramía. Our server hailed from Naples, which he proved by reciting the day's specials in a dialect so old-country rich that we could just about make out the base ingredient of each concoction. Not that it mattered; we got the impression that taking a chance on any given menu item would have yielded equally satisfactory results. Maybe he was just asking if we liked pies.

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