“You go on ahead; we don’t know what we’re doing.”
The two women ahead of me were looking over the menu at Italio Modern Italian Kitchen, the newest assemblage concept to hit town, trying to figure out the process. I accepted their offer to play through, even though it was my first time at the shiny new fast-casual restaurant myself.
But I had a pretty good idea about how it worked. After all, we’ve seen this process before in such places as Chipotle and Moe’s. The fellows at Pie-Fection have applied the conveyor-belt ordering to pizza, and Sus Hi does the same with fish and rice.
Still, I was a little confused myself when I stepped up to the first station. The first thing you’re supposed to do is choose your conveyance from among the three choices. You select from “pasta bowl,” “piadina,” or “salad bowl.” Of course if you’re like most people living in the New World, you have no earthly idea what the hell a piadina is, and the restaurant, perhaps trying to be a bit too clever, doesn’t just call it a wrap. (Piadina, or piada, is a flatbread.)
I was confused by the term pasta bowl. So the container is made out of dough? I asked. I’ve seen soups served in hollowed out loaves of bread. Was this similar?
No, unfortunately. It turns out the pasta bowl and the salad bowl are identical. You’re just indicating with your choice whether you want noodles or lettuce as your base.
I chose pasta, but there were two types, traditional (read: white flour) or whole grain. Can I have both? I asked. I could, the young many replied heartily, and began tonging stacks of spaghetti into the waxed paper bowl, which, at three inches deep and seven inches in diameter would have looked perfectly natural with the word Fido printed on the side.
He slid the bowl along the counter to the next person in line, who demanded to know my entree choice. Here I thought the whole thing was an entree, but what I was really supposed to decide was the meat (or vegetable) that I wanted on top of the pasta. I decided to try the same tactic that I used with the pasta and asked if I could have more than one. I could. So I selected Italian sausage and meatball. (Since all the items are priced at $6.98, except for the $8.98 shrimp option, this was an easy accommodation.)
Moving along the line, the next station was the sauce. Here the choices are three and three, hot or cold. The hots include pomodoro, Alfredo or spicy Prima Rosa; colds are pestos (all made without nuts, so how can you call them pestos?), including basil, sun-dried tomato or roasted red pepper. This time I decided the mix-and-match scheme could be ruinous, so I selected only the Prima Rosa.
Next: toppings. And here it just got too overwhelming. The young woman attending the topping station recommended a few and I said fine, discovering later that I had OK’d the addition of chickpeas, black olives and shaved Parmesan cheese.
I paid for my bowl, dispensed myself a beverage and found a seat at the counter along the front window.
Now, let’s be clear about one thing. Plopping some pasta into a bowl and plopping some meat and sauce on top of it hardly constitutes Italian food. And when you have one of the best Italian restaurants in town -- Rocco’s Italian Grille -- just a few doors away, you’d be better off satisfying a craving for Italian food there.
That said, what I sampled at Italio was perfectly acceptable, and some of it was quite tasty. The sauce and the sausage had pleasant spicy notes. The regular pasta was better than the whole grain, which was, as it usually tends to be, a bit gummy. Overall, the temperature of all of the ingredients could have been hotter. There were little cool patches in the meatballs, and the cold toppings brought the temp down, too.
It was too much food, so a bargain at $7. And only a fool would eat it all in one sitting, so you (should) get two meals out of it.
The restaurant itself is very pleasantly designed and fits the modern moniker. The space is bright and features reds, wood tones and marble surfaces. Signage could be a bit more descriptive to help newcomers like the two women I encountered at the door. The lines are clean, and the seating of booths and the counter I was perched at were comfortable. There is also outdoor seating overlooking lovely U.S. Highway 17-92.
This is the second location for Italio, which first opened in Boca Raton. Another is planned to open soon in Ft. Lauderdale; tomorrow, the world.
Italio Modern Italian Kitchen is at 276 S. Orlando Ave., Winter Park. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. Here is a link to italiokitchen.com. The phone number is 407-960-1860.