Antonio's La Fiamma still serves fine Italian food in Maitland
I had the pleasure of speaking to the members of the Meridian Club of Winter Park this noon (noon; meridian, get it?). And it was all the more pleasurable because they meet at Antonio's La Fiamma in one of the restaurant's upstairs private dining rooms.
Antonio's is the restaurant that wasn't supposed to survive, at least no one in the restaurant community thought it would make it, including me. Greg Gentile built his folly in 1990, taking an old Ponderosa steakhouse and adding a second floor to it. Must have cost millions, everyone whispered. He'll have to fill every seat at least twice every night of the week to even break even, they (we) sneered.
But Gentile knew what he was doing. On the first floor he installed a deli and market with imported Italian foodstuffs. One of his most brilliant moves was to allow the people dining in the deli to purchase a bottle of wine from the retail store to enjoy with their meal without the restaurant markup. He sold a lot of wine (and he wasn't giving it away). The deli featured a bakery that made fresh bread -- and at the time a lot of locals had never seen bread that didn't come out of a wrapper.
Upstairs, Gentile created a fine Italian restaurant, complete with honest-to-buono Italian waiters. So in this one building he had something for everyone. And just about everyone liked it. (I didn't at first, but I came around.)
Today's luncheon was not from the menu but rather something the kitchen created just for the meeting. It was a pork loin rolled with greens and cheese sitting on a mound of some rather delicious risotto. But even without tasting more from the menu, I could tell the kitchen still has it.
I'm happy to continue to recommend Antonio's La Fiamma. Gentile's spinoffs, in Celebration and on Sand Lake Road's Restaurant Row, go on as well. To get more information on all of them, click here.