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At Antonio's Cafe & Deli in Maitland, the tables are set amidst the shelves of the market and wine shop.
I had a double Antonio’s experience last week, first in the deli/market in Maitland and then at Cafe d’Antonio in Celebration, and both were delightful.

I can’t think of any other venue in Central Florida that offers a similar dining experience to the one found at the Maitland Antonio’s La Fiamma. Upstairs, of course, is the more formal dining room. That space was recently expanded in a renovation that added zero new seats. Instead, it increased the area of the bar and lounge and added a balcony overlooking Lake Lily. The kitchen there, under the direction of chef Scott Copeland, churns out wonderful authentic Italian dishes. It’s a great spot for a leisurely dinner, maybe to celebrate a special occasion, or a good place for a date night.

But downstairs in the deli is the sort of cafe that you pop in to on a whim, a reliable grab-a-bite place with good food and a charming ambience. The atmosphere is provided by the market shelves that hold imported Italian specialties and wines and spirits. The tables are scattered throughout the space, almost as an afterthought (some of them were likely added as an afterthought).

One of the allures of the deli dining experience has always been the wine deal initiated by owner Greg Gentile when the restaurant first opened a couple of decades ago. One could purchase a bottle of wine from the shelf or the cooler and enjoy it with the meal without the corkage fee most restaurants charge guests who bring their own wines. It was a brilliant policy, and probably increased sales of wine immensely.

But perhaps as a sign of economic times, the policy no longer exists. You can still purchase a bottle of wine -- at retail prices, which are generally less than what you’d find on a restaurant’s wine list -- and enjoy it with your meal, but now a corkage fee of $5 is attached to the final bill. Five bucks is less than you’d find at most restaurants -- I’ve seen $10 as a norm all the way up to $20 per bottle -- but, still, it was sad to see the program end.

But nothing has changed about the food, starting with the delicious bread served with pats of sweet butter. My companion out-ordered me by selecting the lasagna bolognese, a big brick of pasta sheets, ricotta and mozzarella cheeses and meat sauce in alternating layers, topped with a richly seasoned pomodoro sauce.

But I wasn’t disappointed with my linguine Calabrese, which had sauteed sausage, onions and peppers tossed with a hearty serving of al dente pasta.

A couple of days later, in Celebration, I found myself at Cafe d’Antonio for a luncheon meeting. The bread was just as good as the bread in Maitland, but here it was served with dishes of olive oil for communal dipping. Not as good as the butter, and awkward in a business lunch setting because you don’t want to double dip -- and you don’t want the others at your table to double dip, either!

Here I had the ciabatta di pollo ripiena, a chicken breast stuffed with fontina cheese and prosciutto topped with a tomato and mushroom puree. Not sure why this dish is so named -- most Americans know ciabatta only as the bread, which does not figure into things here. Perhaps they were going for the literal translation -- slipper -- to describe the chicken breast. Whatever. The flavors were good, and the accompanying vegetables were delicious.

The ambience at Cafe d’Antonio is closer to that of the deli in Maitland minus the market goods. Service in both restaurants was very good.

There is a third Antonio’s, of course, on Sand Lake Road’s Restaurant Row that more closely approximates the formal upstairs dining room at La Fiamma. Wish I could have made it there last week for a perfect trifecta. Perhaps another time.

Antonio’s Cafe & Deli is at 611 S. Orlando Ave., Maitland. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. The phone number is 407-645-1039.

Cafe d’Antonio is at 691 Front St., Celebration. It, too, is open for lunch and dinner daily. The phone number is 407-566-2233.

Click here for Antonio’s Web site where you can see menus for all the restaurants.


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Saturday, 23rd August 2014

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A flog is a food blog with news and reviews of restaurants. Here you'll find all things edible, lots of things to drink, including expert wine advice, and lots of other stuff.