I've lost track of all of the restaurants that have tried to make a go of it in the little freestanding building at 2420 Curry Ford Road in Orlando. Little is the operative word there. The space is so small that it didn't provide enough seats to support most restaurant concepts. I don't think that most of the people considered the "butts in seats" calculation -- the number of customers that must be served each day -- that would be necessary to provide enough income to sustain a business.
And so there was a steady flow of hopeful new restaurants over the years, the majority of them Latino. When I started reviewing restaurants in Orlando, in 1988, it was International Cafe. That business moved -- to a larger space -- on Orange Avenue. It was called Cruzin' Crabs for a short time, and Señor Frogi even shorter (though that business may have complicated its chance for survival by choosing a name similar to a major chain's). La Fiesta Mexican Grill started there, too, before moving to a slightly larger space a couple of blocks down the road and then, last year, across the street to even larger digs. Butts in seats, people, butts in seats.
So when it was announced that the next business to move in would be a pizzeria, I thought brilliant, that's just the sort of restaurant that can work in such a space. Besides a potentially lower food cost, pizzerias are historically reliable for takeout business, which does not require a seat therein to put a butt.
Peppino's Organic Italian Kitchen & Pizzeria is the new occupant. The exterior of the building has been given a refresh, and the small dining area inside has been supplemented with a covered patio in back. I like the look of the place, although the patio isn't very appealing currently with the slow demolition of the next-door carwash looking like a superfund toxic waste site.
Unfortunately, the food is only so-so, not nearly good enough to counteract the inferior and at times dismissive service.
I was encouraged by the look of my pizza, the Palermitana, which prosciutto, soppresata and Italian sausage with good hunks of roasted peppers and red onions. There was a nice balance of sauce and mozzarella, too. And the $10 fee for the smaller version seemed like a fair deal. But when you're considering pizza, none of that matters if the platform is inferior. The crust lacked any elasticity in its texture and was ultimately dry.
However, an order of Meatballs Siciliana that I ordered while I waited for the pizza was quite good, easily the best of the food I sampled here. Nice, firmly textured and well-seasoned orbs with just a drizzle of sauce, which wasn't too thick, and a dollop of ricotta cheese.
How much more enjoyable they would have been if someone hadn't plopped a bunch of dirty plates onto the bar next to where I was sitting. They stayed stacked there for too long a time, ignored by one staff member after another, including someone I believe was an owner. I believe that because anyone else who would draw himself a beer and then walk about the restaurant with it (at 8 o'clock in the evening) would probably get sacked. This same person was sitting outside the restaurant when I left with my pizza. You'd think that he'd take the opportunity to thank departing guests and ask them to please come again. Apparently there was something more important on the screen of his phone.
A sandwich, The Italian, that I ordered on a second visit, like the pizza looked great, with several layers of usual salumi and cheeses. But the ciabatta roll was stale, and no amount of the balsamic vinegar that had soaked into it was going to change that.
The Lasagna Parmigiana was better, though it isn't created in the image of what most people consider to be lasagna. It was more like the Roman version, with the pasta sort of rolled around the fillings, which included spinach and walnuts. It was covered with a nice bolognese and melted mozzarella. It was accompanied by a salad of mixed greens.
The main dining area has a quaint rusticity, with corrugated steel wainscoting and tables with a rough-hewn look. A bar area has been added and behind that a domed pizza oven. It's a kitchen very much on display but with no attempts to pretty it up.
That really doesn't bother me. My kitchen isn't all that attractive, either. But if I had guests in my kitchen, I wouldn't walk around talking loudly to my staff about changes I want to make as if the guests weren't there, as the supposed manager did at Peppino's. His attitude seemed to give the other staff members permission to be inattentive, too.
Peppino's is among the first of several businesses that are meant to be part of a new Hourglass District at the intersection of Bumby Avenue and Curry Ford Road, which desperately needs upgrading. I'd really like to see Peppino's be a part of that renaissance.
But it will have to improve greatly before if that is to be.
Peppino's Organic Italian Kitchen & Pizzeria is at 2420 Curry Ford Road, Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday. The phone number is 407-203-5467.