Pizza Party

Homemade potato gnocchi with tomato sauce and basil at Bellini Italian Bistro in Miami Beach.

For today’s budget-conscious diners, pizza and Italian food are always winners. If you’re looking for a place with more style than the neighborhood pizzeria, here are three options. All are casual enough to bring the kids, yet nice enough for an affordable date night.

Open since last fall, Bellini’s has given the former Offerdahl’s a major face lift. With its stylish bar, cream-colored banquettes and dark wood furniture, it feels like an upscale bistro. Service was incredibly attentive on the weeknight we dined. The deals begin with the namesake sparkling-wine cocktail. Bellinis, in traditional peach and other fruit flavors, are always buy-one, get-one-free. Toppings for the coal-fired pizzas run the gamut from meat lovers’ to arugula truffle, lobster pie and design-your-own. We loved the thin crust on our meatball pie, but thought the sauce needed more oomph. Non-pizza eaters can choose from pasta, seafood and health-oriented entrees like blackened chicken or fish with vegetables. Bellini’s goes out of its way to entertain the kids, who can make their own pizza with dough that’s brought to the table along with a chef’s hat, plus a mini cupcake for dessert. We had grilled chicken wings and calamari spinach salad as well as pizza — all solid executions, definitely worth returning for.

If a trip to Italy isn’t in the cards, dinner at Trattoria Panaretto will give you a taste of what you’re missing. The owners had a similar place in Northern Italy before opening this spot in the Southport Shopping Center. Panaretto is the name of a wooden plate used in Venice to serve polenta and here to serve pizza.  Toppings like prosciutto and stracchino, grana or mascarpone cheeses add European flair to pizzas that are a little larger than personal-size. Light eaters could share one with a salad. Our Emanuelle — chicken, spinach, sun-dried tomatoes and goat cheese (we substituted blue cheese) — had just the right mix of flavors without being overpowering. We liked the stracchino and rosemary, too, but found the vegetarian pie soggy. Penne pasta with mixed peppers and Italian sausage wasn’t anything special. Meals end here with a complimentary bit of cheer: a glass of orange liqueur mixed with milk.

Brick walls and Italian posters create a comfy atmosphere at Bravo Ristorante, a Quay Shopping Center stalwart that has stood the test of time in East Fort Lauderdale for more than 15 years. The menu of Italian classics with a few twists brings to mind Carrabba’s. Stick to pastas and chicken to keep the budget in check. All dinners come with soup or salad plus garlic rolls (ours were doughy and disappointing). We loved the grilled calamari appetizer with vegetables in a wine-spiked pomodoro sauce. Next time we’ll order a side of pasta with this as our meal. Classics like veal and chicken parmigiano got a thumbs up, but Pollo Siciliano — chicken parmigiano with a slice of eggplant — was too heavily fried. The dessert tray had tempting selections, but we were way too full.


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