A whole Chargrilled Branzino isn’t the sort of dish I’d typically order at a place called Mia’s Italian Kitchen, a newcomer to the I-Drive collection of restaurants. But when one was placed in front of me to try, I found myself wanting to forsake everything else on the table. And just about everything else was worth eating, too.
Mia’s is owned by Alexandria Restaurant Partners of Alexandria, Va., which also owns the nearby Cafe Tu Tu Tango. (Remember when that opened in 1994 and we expected it to be a national chain one day? It’s the only remaining one.)
The Orlando Mia’s is ARP’s second – the other is in Alexandria – and it takes over a freestanding building that had once been home to a Don Pablo’s Tex-Mex restaurant. Some of the exposed brick features of the previous tenant remain, but Mia’s has brightened it up with colorful abstract art, Sistine Chapelesque ceiling paintings and whimsical chandeliers fashioned out of wine bottles.
It’s a voluminous space with high ceilings, but it’s been divided into more intimate spaces so you don’t feel like you’re dining in a cavern.
The menu is under the direction of Richie Vazquez, and besides that branzino – with a wonderfully crisped skin, juicy white flesh and tangy capers in puttanesca sauce on top of grilled broccolini – which Vazquez said was his favorite, there is an abbondanza of Italian specialties from which to choose.
My lunch guest and I started with the Giant Meatball, an aptly named orb of all beef with a melting mozzarella filler and pulpy marinara.
We also tried the Pane al Formaggio, a whole loaf of bread slathered with roasted garlic butter seasoned with rosemary and thyme with mozzarella on top.
I particularly liked the Gnocchi ai Quattro Formaggi, stogie-shaped dense dumplings in a creamy, cheesy sauce.
Pizzas here are made from scratch – even the dough – and are small, thick square pies similar to what you might find in Naples. We sampled the Funghi, which had an ample amount of chewy cremini mushrooms and lots of gooey mozzarella cheese.
Nonna’s Sunday Gravy, the slow-simmered red sauce, was served with tender rigatoni and had hunks of Italian sausage, meatballs (not giant), chicken thighs and braciole. It had a delightful spicy note and was quite filling.
Dessert featured creamy, rich Tiramisu and large-tubed Cannolis. Can’t decide which one I liked best.
Servers were attentive and prompt.
By dint of its location, Mia’s will be dismissed by many locals. But they’ll be missing out on some delicious Italian food. And one of the best grilled branzinos in town.
Mia’s Italian Kitchen is at 8717 International Drive, Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner daily, including late nights. Brunch is served on weekends. The phone number is 407-601-7130.