- Published on Tuesday, 25 September 2012 10:38
- Written by Scott Joseph
That little stretch of Orlando Avenue in Maitland certainly is becoming a bit of a mini dining district, isn’t it? For years, Antonio’s La Fiamma was about it for people in that area, not that that implies they had to settle. Antonio’s offers two terrific dining options: the formal dining room upstairs and the casual market and deli down.
Then within the last couple of years, Ran Getsu made the surprising move from International Drive to a new space across the lake (pond, really) from Antonio’s. SoNapa opened across the street. And now, almost next door to SoNapa, is Francesco’s Ristorante & Pizzeria.
It takes confidence to open an Italian restaurant in such proximity to Antonio’s, but from what I tasted on a recent visit, Francesco’s is out to give Antonio’s a run for its lira.
The chef owner of the restaurant is Francesco Aiello (I love it -- a name that’s two-thirds vowels!), a native of Palermo, Sicily. He is not new to Central Florida kitchens; he’s been cooking here since 1998, most recently at Terra Mia in Lake Mary.
The menu isn’t dissimilar from other Italian menus in the area, but the execution of the dishes certainly sets it apart.
I especially liked Aiello’s pizza. The platform of the crust was thin, but the edges had poofed up from the 700-degree wood-burning oven. The toppings on the carne pizza -- pepperoni, sausage and ham -- were plentiful, as was the cheese and sauce. And yet the pie retained a certain crispness in the crust. I ate each bite with a slight bit of awe. If you’re among those who lament being unable to find good pizza in Orlando, you must try the one here.
I also liked the pollo cacciatore, chicken breast sauteed with mushrooms, onions, roasted red peppers, pulpy tomatoes, and green olives. (I think the olives were key to the piquancy.) Instead of being served atop pasta, the cacciatore was served next to a stack of broad noodles, which were also lightly tossed in pomodoro. I enjoyed the flavors while sitting in the restaurant, and I enjoyed them again as leftovers the next day.
Francesco’s is in an odd space, a structure that looks more suitable for a real estate office or insurance adjustor. But the interior has been “aged” to show fading plaster and brick walls behind it. Seating is mainly at booths, though there is a food bar overlooking the kitchen. The kitchen is the center of attention in the restaurant, Aiello stationed in back as commander of the cooks and servers who approach him with questions and requests. I was sitting at the food bar, watching all the action of the cooks and the pizzaiolo, enjoying the glow of the oven and the bustle of a busy kitchen. I couldn’t hear much of the conversation between Aiello and the staff, but there were plenty of hand gestures for emphasis. Fun.
Knowing that guests often have long waits for tables to open up at Antonio’s, just across Orlando Avenue, I suppose putting an Italian restaurant nearby is smart, just to attract the overflow.
But Francesco’s food and the dining experience here is much better than a second-choice. It’s wonderful to have another very good Italian restaurant, not just in Maitland but in all of Central Florida.
Francesco’s Ristorante & Pizzeria is at 400 S. Orlando Ave., Maitland. It is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday. Here is a link to francescos-rist.com. The phone number is 407-960-5533.
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