Intensely European: Allegria's superbly extends the Bravissimo family (photo: Doug Dukane)
Neighborhood: Winter Park Area
With all the exotic choices surrounding us that have become familiar, it sounds really old-fashioned to say, "I have a favorite Italian restaurant." And pizza doesn't count. I mean the foods of Abruzzi and Naples, Sorrento and Milan. Dishes like fried alici (anchovies that are fresh silvery fish, not shriveled salt-sticks), whole grilled artichokes and mussels in spicy tomato sauce.
My favorite ristorante is in New Orleans, but since we live in Florida, hopping over for a quick dinner isn't really an option. So I am doubly pleased that the Allegria Wine Bar has opened in Winter Park.
You know this place, or at least the man behind it. Rosario Spagnolo, who owns the Bravissimo Café in Sanford and is a partner of the very popular Bravissimo Wine Bar on Shine Avenue, has brought what he calls his "new concept" to Lyman Avenue, continuing the spread of eateries off Park Avenue. The "concept" is good food in a most pleasant atmosphere, with washed gold and maroon walls the colors of Tuscany in summer, a large oak bar and centered in the room a circular table displaying the "antipasto Allegria" ($8.50). Order this. Odds are you'll be back just to have it again with a glass from the vast wine menu. There are beautiful cheeses, creamy polenta, sweet sausage in red-pepper sauce and crunchy crostini with porcini mushrooms.
Several dishes are carry-overs from Bravissimo. This is not a bad thing. The signature "pollo Rosario" ($14.00) is a superb meal: lightly sautéed and tender chicken topped with ribbons of sun-dried tomato and two enormous shrimp cooked in their shells. It is all dressed in a savory pink garlic-vodka sauce and served atop creamy mashed potatoes that are both smooth and chunky. For taste and variety of textures, this dish is about as good as it gets. "Quail porcini" ($15) is two boneless birds, dark and milder than one would expect, in a rich mushroom-wine sauce. Pasta dishes can be ordered in half portions, including fresh gnocchi in four cheeses and orecchiette with rapini and sausage (each $7.50).
There's a gentle competence about Allegria (which means "joy"). Ask your waiter for a recommendation, or watch as your antipasti are selected; there's both a respect for the food and surety of movement you don't get from casual "servers." The attitude of pampering is highly addictive, and intensely European. Come here and enjoy, before the place is discovered.
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1505 E. Colonial Dr.
Orlando, FL 32803
Phone: (407) 377-0400
Classified Phone: (407) 377-0415
Fax: (407) 377-0420
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