Generous cheers

Bravissimo is the Italian way of saying not just "wow" but "wow" with exclamation points, cabaret lights and fireworks. It's a fitting name for downtown's newest trattoria, Bravissimo Wine Bar Cafe, which is set in the former Union City Tavern location. At its best, Italian food is about celebration, indulgence and comfort. And that's what you'll find here.

The historic neighborhood makes for a more casual and relaxed setting than at its sister restaurant, Bravissimo Cafe at Seminole Towne Center in Sanford. The menu is more contemporary, too. While the restaurants share a name, they are separately owned and operated by two old friends. The downtown location is run by Armando Martorelli, who arrived here two years ago from Naples – the one in Italy, not South Florida.

With the help of head chef Sergio Scardino, formerly of Cara Mara in Longwood and Sardi's in New York City, Martorelli offers a menu of pizzas, pastas and fine entrees, blended with an atmosphere of jazz music and contemporary art.

During peak hours, this restaurant is downright noisy, in the tradition of trattorias. And you won't find stuffed-shirt waiters or reserved attitudes. When we visited on a Friday night, the crowd included a mixed bag of downtown hipsters, professionals and gatherings of families and friends.

Despite the pace, our waiter didn't miss a beat. We had a bread basket and all our drinks within minutes of being seated.

Individual pizzas are in the $6 range, and they're just right for splitting as appetizers. Our favorite was the "Bravissimo" ($6.50), topped with feta and mozzarella cheeses, plus spinach. The crust was outstanding – chewy inside, sizzling and crisp outside.

For entree suggestions, we placed ourselves in the waiter's hands. Although we'd never heard of gnocchi alla Sorrentina ($8.95), it was easy to see why these homemade potato dumplings have become a favorite here. Tossed with plum tomatoes, mozzarella and basil, they are simple, chewy and outrageously delicious.

We also enjoyed pollo rollatini ($8.95), a juicy chicken breast stuffed with ricotta, spinach and mozzarella, and finished with creamy brandy sauce.

For dessert, the slice of tiramisu ($2.95) was the size of a double cheeseburger. It was just another reminder of the generosity that defines the Italian philosophy toward food.

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