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Armando's

Armandos_exteriorArmando’s, the new restaurant from the owner of Trattoria Toscana on Park Avenue, has opened in Winter Park’s West Side, and it seems to have enlivened the Hannibal Square neighborhood.

Owner Armando Martorelli took over the space left vacant when Hot Olives moved a few blocks away to its new home on Fairbanks Avenue and renovated the building to give it a crisp, cafe-like look. Before the redo, the building was a mass of gray and it’s main asset, at least in my mind, was its open-air design. When I learned that Martorelli planned to enclose it, I thought the structure would lose its allure.

But somehow, even with the addition of doors, the place seems to have become more open. The walls have been whitewashed, and gauzy white curtains hang in the doorways and frame the windows; floors are a tan saltillo tile. Fruit-basket light fixtures and honeycomb wine racks lend a marketplace aura. There is a food bar at the far end of the main dining room, overlooking the kitchen workspace that includes the new pizza oven. A bar bar is at the front of the room, looking out the windows on to New England Avenue through the open windows.

Through those windows, and down about a foot, is outdoor bar seating, though patrons there can barely peek over the window sill. PatioArmandos_sidewalk_bar tables and chairs make good use of the corner’s sidewalk space. (There is an interior patio, as well, with a big fire pit that would seem perfect for this weekend’s cool weather.)

When he first announced his plans for the restaurant, Martorelli told me it would be mainly a pizzeria, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Yes, there are pizzas, and they are a mainstay of the menu, but the offerings go well beyond that.

I started a lunch visit with a bowl of pasta e fagioli, a hearty soup of orecchiette pasta “ears” and white beans in a red-tinged broth that also held pulpy bits of tomatoes and whole garlic cloves made mild through simmering. Delicious.

The carne pizza was aptly named, a heaping pile of meats, including ham, sausage and chicken, under a blanket of melted mozzarella. The pizza had a rustic look, its thick crust with a tasty char. The heavy toppings are what made the bottom of the crust a bit moist, but that didn’t prevent me from enjoying it.

On an evening visit, when the place was bustling with happy diners and the notes of light jazz from a couple of musicians on the sidewalk wafted throughout the dining rooms, I sampled the veal Milanese. (I had spotted George Vogelbacher, chef at Winter Park Fish Co., enjoying it and he gave it a thumbs up, so I decided to order it, too.) I liked that the veal hadn’t been pounded too thinly and still had a bit of meatiness to sink your teeth into. The golden jacket was crisp and perfect, and the bits of arugula gave it a pleasant bit of bite.

The atmosphere here is lively, though it might be possible to find a quiet corner for a romantic night out. Prices are reasonable: $14.95 for the carne pizza, $16.95 for the veal Milanese, and not a thing over $20. Armando’s is sure to be a favorite of many Winter Parkers.

Armando’s is at 463 New England Ave., Winter Park. It’s open for lunch and dinner daily. There is no website. The phone number is 407-951-8930.

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