Credit owners Emilia di Pangrazio Paglialonga and Giuseppe "Pino" Miraglia for massaging a trattoria out of a space that, for many years, had been a mecca for Winter Park froyo enthusiasts. No, Rome's Flavours may not appear entirely comfortable in its new skin, but there is something undeniably Italian about the restaurant nonetheless. Its interior feels like a set from a Fellini movie – equal parts stylish, stark and sexy – and both Emilia and Pino seem to embody some of that flair. The pair spent their lives in the EUR district of Rome, and even ran a gelateria there before moving to Orlando, so setting up shop off tony Park Avenue seems a natural choice. Gone are the previous tenants' cultured confections, replaced by a machine which Miraglia employs to fashion house-made gelato, and mamma mia, is that gelato good.
Granted, patrons have been startled by the rumbling of his gelato maker, and more than a few startled guests have risen from their seats to inquire about the noise, but the racket is a small price to pay to enjoy some of the finest gelato in town. It can be a bit off-putting when a swarm of people enters the restaurant only to congregate in front of the gelato case situated adjacent to the dining booths – good thing that the food quality helps to ease the annoyance.
Rustic pizzas served on wood cutting boards and fashioned using natural yeast are a prime example. The doughy bites of the Via Napoli ($8.90) with San Marzano tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and fresh basil were truly memorable ones. We ordered the "small" portion to whet our appetites, and whetted them even more with a small cutting board ($8.90) of meats (mortadella, prosciutto di Parma and salami) and cheeses (fontina, provolone and grana padano). The velutata di patate ($5.90) was just as fun to say as it was to slurp, and the thick, creamy potato soup made a primo prelude to our mains, particularly on this cool evening.
First up was rigatoni arrabbiata ($10.90), served with meatballs (extra $3.90). The pasta was perfectly al dente, but it was so piping hot that we had to wait a while before digging in. When we did, we noted the sauce was somewhat thin and fell a little flat, lacking arrabbiata's traditional peppery spicing. The trio of meatballs, on the other hand, were spot-on. We really enjoyed the plate of tagliata di manzo ($17.90) – a dish exemplifying Paglialonga and Miraglia's simple, rustic and full-flavored approach to cooking. Strips of flank steak and shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano were plated atop a bed of arugula drizzled with rosemary-infused olive oil. The dish was sided with sauteed button mushrooms and a heap of stellar chunky mashed potatoes.
To not end your meal with gelato would be, as the Italians say, un peccato, so avoid regret and go for an affogato ($7.90) – espresso poured over four choice scoops. We opted for straciatella; gorgonzola, nut and honey; pastry-pistachio; and pure milk, and we'd easily do it again.
Paglialonga then came by to ask if we were interested in sampling some cantucci. The Tuscan specialty is a miniature almond biscotti with a hint of citrus and is traditionally served at the end of the meal with a glass of sweet red wine, like Sangue di Giuda ($7.90). Not ones to say no, we gladly accepted her generous offer, and dutifully devoured the twice-baked cookies.
After all, when in Winter Park, do as the Romans do.