Just when he thought he was out, Stefano LaCommare was sucked back into the very world he walked away from last year. Well, sort of. LaCommare no longer runs his once-bustling namesake trattoria in Winter Springs, but his daughter Antonella Paradiso, his son Leonardo, and Antonella's husband, Francesco, felt the call of the wild restaurant world, and Stefano couldn't help but get his hands greasy by helping out.
Just talking to Antonella at her namesake pizza and pasta house on Fairbanks Avenue, you get a sense of the passion and familial pride in this humble little operation. And the digs are humble – diminutive, even, as those who visited the space when it was Pi Hole Pizza, Chomp Chomp Pizza or House of Kabob before that know.
Antonella's sauces, and her punishing use of garlic, are undoubtedly traits passed down from LaCommare. In fact, after one bite of those familiar hand-tied garlic knots ($3.95 for six; $6.95 for 12), you'd think she was trying to one-up papa. Despite the intensity, skipping the doughy knots would be wrong.
Spinning more dough into New York-style pizza pies is Francesco, the pizzaiolo responsible for keeping sated the hordes of Rollins students we saw folding and thrusting slices into their ravenous yaps. We couldn't help but follow suit with good ol' fashioned cheese ($2.25 per slice) and spinach and tomato ($3 per slice). The rectangular slab of Sicilian ($3.25 per slice) had us thinking back to our college days and meals comprising Stouffer's French Bread Pizza. Luckily, this hefty wedge failed to elicit the sort of gastrointestinal distress the boxed variant had a knack for wreaking, often minutes before finals.
On the sandwich front, a saucy meatball parmigiana hero ($8.95) held up nicely in between soft and crusty bread, even after a thorough anointing in herbaceous marinara. Our server, affable, exuberant and chatty, talked so highly of the eggplant rollatini florentina ($13.95) that we felt obliged to order it – good for her that the breaded melanzana rolled with ricotta, spinach, mozzarella and plenty of tomato sauce didn't disappoint.
Then again, nothing here really did, including the dolci. A not-too-sweet ricotta filling rendered the cannoli ($3.95) nearly flawless, while the slightly more sugary limoncello cake ($4.95) made a perfectly adequate capper to the proceedings.
Just as her father did at Il Pescatore and Stefano's, Antonella makes it a point to visit and chat with patrons. While she may lack her father's animated Old World lilt, the flair and geniality is unmistakably present, and that, perhaps, is the most important ingredient of all. The dishes served at Stefano's and Il Pescatore weren't the sort to blow your mind, but when a craving for traditional and comforting Italian fare hit, there was no other place I wanted to go. I feel the same about Antonella's.