Peperoncino

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Peperoncino eggsIf you walked through Peperoncino’s front door and took too many steps you’d find yourself back outside through the little restaurant’s back door. Peperoncino is a relative newcomer to the Dellagio Plaza on Restaurant Row. It’s much smaller than its culinary neighbors, Dragonfly, Cantina Laredo, Big Fin and Fleming’s. 

But what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in charm and, more important, the food. In the realm of Italian restaurants in Central Florida, few offer the sort of authentic experience that Peperoncino does. If you’re sitting in a spot that allows a view of the Dellagio’s central plaza, you might think you’re on a piazza looking at one of the fountains of Rome.

And don’t expect the food to bring you back to reality. It is expertly crafted from recipes cooked in the kitchens of the chef/owner Barbara Alfano’s grandmothers and is lovingly replicated here. Every bite is a veritable travelogue.

Peperoncino lasagnaMy favorite was the lasagna, a large brick with the requisite multiple layers of pasta sheets, meat and cheese. But what made it stand out were the meaty bits of sausage, and what sent it over the top was the pulpy tomato sauce that covered and surrounded it. After the lasagna was gone, I found myself scooping up the rest of the sauce. I didn’t want to waste one bit.

I was a little surprised when I ordered the pasta e fagioli and the waiter asked how spicy I wanted it. I’d never been asked that question. But then I have never had a pasta e fagioli like this one. It had red beans instead of the usual white, at least three kinds of pasta, including macaroni and matchsticks of spaghetti, cherry tomatoes, hunks of carrots and potato. Although classified as a soup, it had very little broth. It did indeed have some spiciness (I asked the server to let the chef decide how hot it should be), but the peppery flavor was just one of multiple layers. Not only did I eat all of this one, too, but I used some of the thickly sliced warm Italian bread drizzled with olive oil to sop up every drop.

On a Sunday brunch visit, I had a simple frittata with an arugula salad. The frittata, similar to an omelet, had bits of ham and vegetables. The lightly dressed arugula was delicious.

My companion had an Italian version of eggs Benedict, poached eggs atop slices of toasted Italian bread, prosciutto instead of ham and lots of that wonderful pulpy tomato sauce -- who needs hollandaise?

The dining space is narrow, with seating at banquettes along the wall and at a a small food counter/bar. Chairs and stools are clear acrylic, which gives the room a modern flair against the red padded panels on the bar front.

The kitchen is there in the dining room, too, which makes it feel a little like an upscale short-order diner. The counter in front of the kitchen space has bowls of oxblood-colored dried peppers -- or peperoncini -- with bright Peperoncino pastayellow lemons.

The surprisingly large staff was professional and friendly. The women greeters were warm and genuine; the men who waited on the tables were more focused and straightforward.

The check is presented on an iPad; the guest’s credit card processed using a dongle plugged into the headphone jack. This is a setup usually employed by self-employed businesses, such as food trucks. One niggling note: the guest may select one of three tip choices to add to the bill -- 18 percent, 20 percent or 25 percent -- and the calculation is automatically added to the total. However, the calculation is based on the full amount of the check, including the tax. Customarily, gratuities are calculated without the tax. Also, there’s no way to leave another amount, unless you choose no tip and leave cash. Like a said, a niggling note.

Anyway, when you’re a guest in a foreign country, you don’t complain. 

Peperoncino is at 7988 Via Dellagio Way (at Sand Lake Road), Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. Here is a link to peperoncinocucina.com. The phone number is 407-440-2856.

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