Tag Archives: chianti

Papa Nick’s Pasta & Pizza: 4940 Fruitville Rd, Sarasota, FL

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wine papa bread papa chowder papa salad paparanch and house papaspinach shells eggplant rollentini penne

 

For 3 months, Gabriel and I lived practically across the street from Papa Nick’s. It wasn’t until the night before we moved to another town that we finally got around to trying it. It was fairly late for dinner (by Florida standards) and there was just one other group there when we arrived. We sat in the main dining room but quickly asked to be moved because it was freezing in there. The waitress was happy to find us a table in a warmer section and we sat down to look at the menus.

The prices are very reasonable, with most entrees around $13 and including soup, salad, bread and pasta. The menu, however,  is nothing special. It’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect of a strip mall Italian restaurant. We ordered a glass of Chianti to share- but found it to be extremely watery. I guess for a $5 glass, we shouldn’t have expected anything great. The bread was at least a day old already and had a stale crust. The clam chowder was watery and sort of gummy with no real clam pieces and only an occasional bite of potato. It was also sort of luke warm. The salads were mostly iceberg lettuce with a couple of ripe grape tomatoes and a slice of cucumber, and were served with plastic squeeze bottels of dressing. Classy.

Our main dishes were actually quite good- but pretty much everything is quite good when it’s smothered in loads of mozzarella cheese. I should definitely give credit where it’s due however, and the truth is that the tomato sauce is fantastic. It’s exactly how I like it with a slight sweetness to it and a smooth, thick, consistency. The spinach/ricotta stuffed shells were the favorite over the eggplant parmesan, but really both were enjoyable.  The pasta was typical boxed penne- and at that point I was too full to want more carbs.

Overall, for about $15 per person including tip, I guess I would recommend it in certain situations…For instance, if you are starving from packing all day, close by, and with less than $20 per person to spend, give it a shot!

 

 

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Toscano’s: 1544 Second Ave. New York, NY

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I picked up a Groupon for $15 that was supposed to be good for a free large pizza, a salad (caesar or house) and 2 beverages for take out, dine in or delivery. When we arrived and showed the coupon to our waiter, we were informed that it was a mistake on Groupon’s part and was only supposed to be good for delivery. We expressed our aggravation and the waiter went to see what he and the manager could do about it. While he was checking, the best table in the restaurant (in the corner, by the open front window/walls) opened up and we re-seated ourselves there to wait for the verdict.

He came back a few minutes later with what we thought was pretty darn awesome news. They apparently don’t do large pizzas in-house, which was why the coupon was a problem, so instead they offered us a salad, a small pizza, 2 beverages AND an appetizer! Wow! To us, getting to try an extra dish was a total bonus, and we ended up really psyched about the mistake.

We started with some lovely foccacia, brought out in a basket with excellent olive oil and a swirl of balsamic vinegar. We also ordered 2 iced teas which were remarkably good- especially when the waiter took the extra time to hunt down some honey for us at our request. For our salad option we chose the house, which was mixed mesclun lettuce, grape tomatoes and red onions with a light balsamic vinaigrette. A nice first course to start out with; a fresh, clean, light beginning to the carb-y meal ahead.

Next, we ordered the special baked gnocchi with gorgonzola sauce for our appetizer. It came served atop some leafy greens that really helped to cut the heavy, richness of the dish. It was quite a treat, and tasted a lot more like fried cheese than gnocchi to me. Although it was baked, not fried, it had a crisp breaded crust on the outside that added a great consistency to the creamy inside. The sauce on top was creamy and decadent, and by the time we finished this and our salad we weren’t sure how much of our pizza we’d be able to eat.

I should mention that during each course, our extremely friendly, charismatic and attentive waiter stopped by to check on us, chat about how we were liking our meal, and make sure we had everything we needed. We soon found out that Chris is also a local realtor (which I will definitely keep in mind if I ever decide to leave my current apartment) as well as an opera singer. He’s not only a great server, but also a really fun and interesting guy- and if you’re lucky enough to sit at one of his tables, I’d highly suggest getting to know him a bit.

Our pizza arrived hot, melty and with a perfectly golden brown crust. The mozzarella, as Chris informed us, is handmade by the father of the owner with their old family recipe, and you can truly taste the love that goes into it. I adore family owned and operated businesses for the integrity and pride that is so clear in their service and food, and this was no exception. The pizza was delicious, not at all greasy or over-seasoned. It was made just right, with fresh tomato sauce, arugula and grilled chicken and of course, the wonderful mozzarella. Even though we’d predicted we’d surely be taking some home, we cleaned the plate and felt happily full and satisfied afterwards. We did not have that over-stuffed feeling you get when you’ve just polished off a typical NY Pizza. No, this was not grab & fold pizza at all, this was real food.

At the end of our meal when Chris came to check on us a final time, I introduced myself to him and gave him my Carey’s Culinary Adventures card. They’ve only been open for a month or so, and I figured they’d appreciate knowing that I’d be putting some nice words up about them. As a gesture of gratitude, Chris brought over 2 glasses of Chianti for Gabriel and I to sip, and I thought it was a very sweet way to end a great experience. Thanks Chris! There is no question that I’ll be back to try more of their offerings. They had quite an extensive and appealing menu and are apparently adding more to it over the next few weeks. Although we had a fantastic coupon this time, and felt like we’d just polished off about $75 worth of food and drinks for a mere $15, I would be more than happy to pay full price for food this good and service this entertaining. Welcome to the neighborhood Toscano’s!

 *photos courtesy of Gabriel Sanders. http://www.magicsandbox.com/enter/Magic_Sandbox.html