There are those restaurants you drive by all the time and promise to check out, but never quite make it inside. This month we decided to break that cycle and check out three Italian places in Fort Lauderdale that are easy to overlook in small strip shopping centers. The good news is that all are worth a return trip.
Lucca, a cozy Fort Lauderdale café across from the ocean on A1A, reminded us of places we visited years ago on our honeymoon in Italy. The one-room space is nothing fancy, with simple dark wood tables and a small bar area, but dim lighting gives it a bit of a romantic feel. You’ll find about a half-dozen appetizers, 10 pastas (full or half portions) and a couple of fish and meat selections. Most are simple classics like fettuccini bolognese, penne puttanesca, chicken parmesan and veal piccata, but there are specials in each category. Enjoy the fresh-baked focaccia with roasted garlic while you peruse the menu. We started with grilled octopus that that was cooked just right with a lemon and garlic sauce that was the perfect complement, paired with a fresh arugula salad lightly dressed with balsamic vinaigrette. Linguine Fra Diavolo came with three jumbo shrimp and a sweet-spicy tomato sauce. Pollo Ripieno was an overflowing plate of chicken breast stuffed with spinach, mozzarella, spinach and prosciutto and topped with rich cognac sauce. The plate also included ample sides of mashed potatoes and a fresh vegetable medley lightly flavored with garlic and olive oil — not for a light eater. While house-made desserts sounded tempting, we couldn’t manage another bite. Maybe next time.
Giorgio’s 17th Street is the kind of neighborhood spot everyone wants nearby. You can stop by to pick up takeout, have lunch with a co-worker or grab a quick dinner with the kids. Combining a Italian restaurant, pizza place, gourmet market and catering service, Giorgio’s has only a couple dozen seats inside plus outdoor tables. The varied menus ranges from sandwiches and salads to brick-oven pizzas, pastas and full Italian meals. We were impressed with the size of the portions and the reasonable prices for the high quality of the food. With two adults and a very hungry child, we split an entrée salad, pizza and pasta with plenty of leftovers. The kitchen will split portions for you at no extra charge, and it’s a good idea.
Fresh-baked bread comes with hummus. A salad of mixed greens loaded with Gorgonzola cheese, tomatoes, grilled chicken, bacon and artichokes makes a nice meal for one or enough for two or three as a starter. The pizzas have a thin, crispy crust but ours was a little soggy in the middle, weighed down by sausage and roasted peppers.Penne pasta with garlic, olive oil, fresh spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, walnuts, pomodoro sauce and grilled chicken was tasty, but not anything we couldn’t duplicate at home. Next time we want to try items from the display case like the chicken Milanese and desserts.
Isabella’s Pizza & Pasta is not going to rock your socks, but it does a good job on the basics. The small storefront is busiest at lunch time, and does a brisk takeout business. You’ll find all the Italian classics like parmigiana, piccata and francese for several dollars less than the competition. Most pastas come in under $9 and entrees under $12. Garlic rolls here are a definite winner. Next time we want to try the gourmet pizzas, which include combinations like chicken pesto, chicken cordon bleu and chicken marsala. The Chicken parmigiana entrée and New York-style pizza both got a thumbs up, but chicken siciliana with eggplant and mozzarella was a little too greasy and lacking in flavor.