click to enlarge bartlettimage-saporito-3357.jpg

Photo by Rob Bartlett

Find made-from-scratch Italian grandma food at Ocoee's Saporito 

Second to Nonna

If you need some convincing to brave the twisty-turny, ever-changing mess that is our highway system to try a fantastic little family-owned spot, read on. By the end of it, I'm betting you'll have your head right to set out for Saporito Organic Bakery & Kitchen on Old Winter Garden Road. There, you'll find a large corner space in a plaza with a small menu that's heavy on Italian "slow food" classics. Frills, no. Soul-centering food, yes.

The ownership at Saporito subscribes wholly to the Slow Food Movement that was birthed in Italy in the early 2000s. The credo is simple: Slower is better, and everything from scratch. While the restaurant hews to the slow food ideology in the kitchen, nothing about the front-of-house service at Saporito was overly leisurely. As soon as we walked in the door, we were greeted and shown to a table, and it all flowed from there.

On my most recent visit, we started with a generously piled antipasto alla Italiana ($15), with sliced-to-order ribbons of Parma ham, speck, black-pepper-spiked porchetta and mortadella (the world's most underappreciated deli meat, IMHO) fanned out next to fontina, asiago, Parmigiano and not-too-piquant Gorgonzola dolce, served alongside raspberry preserves. One bite into the slightly charred, crackly, bubbly crust of the speck flatbread ($13) and you'll know there are some master bakers back there. Verdant arugula sprinkled with Parmigiano sat atop the "small" sized pizza – big enough to serve four as an appetizer – along with the pork, mushrooms and creamy scamorza cheese. I loved it, but yearned for a little acid to really pop off those flavors. A little drizzle of legit balsamico di Modena would have done the trick.

The menu is heavy on pasta and pizza (I'm not complaining), but the secondi section gets some love too. On a previous visit I fawned over the bright flavors in the linguini al tonno ($12), which teemed with olives, capers, cherry tomatoes and flakes of good olive-oil packed tuna coating every al dente noodle.

At dinner, we slurped up the silky polenta atop which three impossibly juicy meatballs covered in tomato sauce sat ($15). If I had to pick a favorite pasta dish, carbonara, the sexpot of Italian cuisine, would be an easy pick. But finding a true bacon-egg-and-cheese carbonara (no cream!) is surprisingly difficult. Saporito is doing it, though, and by the time I'd slurped up the last of the linguine coated with that ecstasy-inducing emulsion of Parmigiano-Reggiano, egg and rendered pancetta ($12), my husband and I were arguing like true Italians about which carbonara was the best from our road trip through northern Italy.

We also found perfect execution on the dessert menu. The crispy cannoli ($8) was filled to order with light mascarpone, subtly spiked with orange zest and lemon juice in a nod to the more traditional Sicilian preparation filled with candied fruit. Bravissimo. When my eyes lit up at tasting the orange essence in the cannoli filling, the owner ran over with a big smile and said, "It's citrus!" I basked in his infectious enthusiasm about what was coming from his own cooks.

I've waxed on about the food, which is certainly worthwhile, but what really makes Saporito Organic Bakery & Kitchen special is the owners' relationships with their customers. This place feels like home, and I watched families, couples and even a lone diner or two saunter in, all greeted with a handshake or hug from the owner or his wife. I overheard them ask one customer about her anniversary last week. Another customer sulked slightly when he heard they'd sold out of bread for the day. Clearly, coming here for fresh bread was one of the week's highlights. No matter; he sat at the bar and drowned his disappointment in a heap of lasagna. In just a few months since opening, Saporito had clearly won their hearts and stomachs, and mine, too.

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