Dining Outside the Home: Rosati’s Pizza in Estero, Florida! You learn a lot about a business by talking to the owners. Perhaps that is why I sometimes visit a restaurant in the off hours of the day. You are more apt to find the owners working face-to-face with customers. Rosati’s Pizza is owned and operated by a family who not only strives for perfection, but also cares about the people who walk through their door. When they expanded their business in Estero for dine-in service, Covid hit with a vengeance and caused them to shift to delivery and carry-out service only. That takes a chunk out of overhead, which translates to selling a boatload of pizza. Yet, they endured. And thrived because they do things the old-fashioned way: like sourcing local ingredients, fresh mozzarella, and homemade crusts. Their story goes all the way back to the first pizzerias in Chicago; Italian roots to the core. So proud, they live by the motto, “We don’t cut corners, just slices of pizza.” Dine in, smell the aromas, chat with the staff, and over-order so you have extra servings for leftovers. Don’t forget to add a jar of the Hot Giardiniera. It is ah-mazing!
Dining Outside the Home: Vergina Restaurant in Naples, Florida! Italians are known for their food culture as well as their leisurely meals. Located on 5th Avenue, a few steps away from the Sugden Civic Theater, is a great place for meeting people. It’s known as Vergina’s. The neo-classic architecture provides lovely patio dining as well as intimate gatherings inside along the u-shaped bar or at tables located throughout. Vergina’s crafted martinis by personable bartenders, an euphoric wine list, memorable cocktails, and leisurely Italian courses are reasons enough to stop by for social interaction or that weekly “date night”. Unwind where the music is lively, without drowning out personal conversations, and the appetite is fully sated.
Dining Outside the Home: L’Olivo Ristorante in Naples, Florida! Located in the heart of Fifth Avenue is an authentic Italian restaurant where Happy Hour, Three-Course Specials, and Featured Entrees make it a memorable place. Although there is a main menu, sometimes it’s a good idea to go with the flow, especially when the chef suggests preset combinations. The portions were reasonable in order to keep a steady pace from one specialty to another. The Bruschetta Prosciutto with shaved parmesan cheese was an easy start, allowing time for sipping on an Aperol Spritzer. The oven-baked Lasagna with bolognese sauce and melted mozzarella cheese was hearty, down to the very last dredge of crusty bread across the marinara. As a finale, there’s always room for dessert when it’s Tiramisu. The espresso-soaked ladyfingers are like eating air. Grazie!
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Start Smart: Marinated Mozzarella Flatbread! You’re probably like everyone else right now and could go to the freezer to pull out a prepared flatbread for supper. Another shortcut is to use marinated mozzarella cheese which already comes sliced in a blend of herbs and olive oil. Oftentimes, I freeze a surplus of cooked meat as well. In this case I already had seasoned Italian sausage, but you could certainly switch things up with pepperoni or sun-dried tomatoes. That’s the beauty of cooking at home. The results bring satisfaction. Just be careful of those piping hot stretchy cheese pulls.
MARINATED MOZZARELLA FLATBREAD
1 prepared naan flatbread
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon cornmeal
1 cup cooked and crumbled Italian sausage
16 ounces marinated mozzarella slices
Crushed basil leaves
Red pepper flakes, to taste
Preheat oven to 400°. Rub 1 tablespoon of olive oil on the bottom of the flatbread. Sprinkle with cornmeal. Carefully flip it over onto a pizza stone. Rub the remaining olive oil onto the top of the crust. Make a layer with the crumbled Italian sausage. Arrange marinated mozzarella slices over meat. Bake for 15 -20 minutes for a crispy crust. The longer it bakes, the more gooey the cheese becomes. When finished, remove from the oven and garnish with crushed basil and red pepper flakes.
Dining Outside the Home: Alberto’s on Fifth in Naples, Florida! There’s nothing that makes me feel more special than dining on white linen tablecloths. Call me crazy, but I simply love it. Now, imagine this table in the mountainous part of Northern Italy where the chef is transforming ordinary food into spectacular dishes. The secret, you wonder? Fresh, local vegetables, pasta, and seafood with fewer processed ingredients. Traditions are important, cutting corners is not. Each dish is a form of art. Creamy mozzarella, salty prosciutto, and fresh basil leaves will literally drive your tastebuds crazy. Listen to the chatter. Crowd-pleasers are everywhere. Linger over the delicious Italian balsamic vinaigrette drizzled over a garden salad. The aromas seduce the palate with a slightly spicy taste. Aging is the secret, of course. But it doesn’t matter what I say, it’s the velvety texture on the tongue that is the judge. Take smaller bites to enjoy the meal longer. It has profound effects that will find you enjoying the meal with satisfying results.
Dining Outside the Home: Caffé Milano in Naples, Florida! First impressions go a long way in my book. From the moment you choose an outdoor table along Fifth Avenue, the server greets you with marinated mixed olives from Italy and homemade ciabatta bread slices. If you’re Italian, you know how important bread is at a meal. Sink your teeth into the earthy goodness and make a mental note to buy a loaf to take home for later. Caffè Milano pretty much serves food all day long. Since I was there for a brunch-style meal, the natural choice that day was Eggs Benedict. Just so you know, the Hollandaise is ah-mazing! Relax and enjoy the activity along the boulevard. You may see luxury import cars to high fashion statements made by those strolling by, so appreciate the perfect vantage point for delicious food and current activity.
Dining Outside the Home: Tony Sacco’s Coal Oven Pizza in Estero, Florida! You’re probably wondering what the big deal is about mentioning “coal oven” in the name of this pizza joint. Basically, it boils down to the deliciousness of a charred crust enclosing a chewy center without overcooking the toppings. You get this from very high, dry heat contained within the oven walls. The coal oven is a little larger than the others, so it holds more pizzas. Makes sense, amirite? There’s nothing worse than sinking your teeth into a pizza pie loaded with extra cheese only to discover the bottom crust is a bit soggy. That’s not going to happen at Tony Sacco’s. In fact, customize your creation like I do. For cheese-lovers, request shredded mozzarella, smoky provolone, grated parmesan, and fresh mozzarella over authentic Italian marinara. The cheese pulls will practically make your mouth drool in public. Slowly wipe your chin. Then garnish a pizza slice with freshly chopped basil and dig in.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Fab Foodstuff: Underrated Summertime Supper! Does anyone have a Himalayan Salt Block besides me? Well, one of the things I like about it is, it can take the guesswork out of adding seasoning to food. It’s a block of pink salt, after all. When serving cold foods like salads, fruits, and cheeses, refrigerate the salt block overnight before using. This helps to keep foods chilled for hours when you need it. Simply arrange the ingredients directly on the block, drizzle on the dressing, and you’re good-to-go. Clean up is easy. Never use soap; salt is naturally antibacterial. Remove food residue with a damp cloth or sponge. Rinse it with a clean swipe, then dab dry. Allow the salt block to air-dry before next use. You’re done.
UNDERRATED SUMMERTIME SUPPER
4 ounces goat’s milk cheese, plain
1 teaspoon Italian dry mix spice blend
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
8 ounces mixed greens, washed
1 Roma tomato, chopped
4 assorted mini sweet peppers, stems and seeds removed, sliced into rings
2 radishes, sliced very thin
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon Herbes de Provence
Balsamic Reduction Sauce
Crusty Artisan Bread
On a sheet of waxed paper, sprinkle Italian dry mix spice blend and red pepper flakes. Form the goat’s milk cheese into a ball. Roll it in the spice mix to cover all sides. Place cheese ball on the chilled Himalayan salt block. Next, arrange mixed greens in a single layer. Arrange Roma tomatoes, mini sweet peppers, radish slices, and red onion rings. Sprinkle Herbes de Provence over top. Drizzle balsamic reduction sauce over salad. Serve with crusty artisan bread.
Dining Outside the Home: Divieto Ristorante in Estero, Florida! Whenever a meal is prepared table-side, things are bound to feel a little bit different at this 1920’s version of a classic Italian restaurant. Their signature dish, Ruota di Parmigiano, is a creamy fettuccine Alfredo specialty tossed in a parmigiana-reggiano cheese wheel. The steamy homemade pasta is poured into the hollowed out cheese wheel over a layer of freshly scraped parmesan shavings. As the pasta is gently mixed in, the buttered noodles are coated in the creamy decadence causing the customers to practically drool uncontrollably. But mind your manners, take a sip of water, and wait patiently until the server ceremoniously transfers the traditional pasta dish before you as though you were royalty.