Antonio's & Vittoria's- North Satellite- 5 Stars
Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover, we've found. You've seen plenty of proof here at Big Boy that imitators of Italian food are everywhere. Either nobody wants to pay the extra dime or so for properly fresh top-shelf ingredients, or the freshness of the mainstream American obsession of "Eat Fresh!" Is lost on the Dashes and Melos of local dreg Italian.
So as soon as you pass by Antonio & Vittorio, you remain a little bit wary at the pervasive use of Italian phrases on the red, white and green windows and door, knowing that any redneck and their coon dog could probably understand what "Ristorante Italiano" means in English, but as soon as someone's English slips up in the form of "We Serving Fresh Pasta," then maybe you begin to wonder if this place is as much la vera cosa as that pizzeria owner who smiles at you pointedly with somewhat shaky English pronunciation as he insists on his life that his prosciutto pizza was made with "REAL prosciutto!" Indeed, the Antonio half of the ownership has a level of English skill that belongs to that mold of incomplete American acculturation. Bolstered by the slightly Old World-tinged rustic American strip-mall interior with floating wine racks mounted on otherwise simple yet elegant beige walls. His enthusiasm is infectious and you hope it's not just a disguise for the mafioso within, ready to fleece your hard-earned money with horrid corporate Italian food dressed in sheep's clothing, but a slice of Italian amore that no amount of indoctrination can erode!
And fittingly, the first thing to come to the table is a basket of sliced bread. If Italian restaurants bring out free bread, then evaluate it like chips and salsa and react accordingly - if it sucks, you might as well leave the waitstaff a good couple dollars of tip and bolt. The texture and consistency may not be my personal preference, but at least it's made properly, so there's a good sign. But what's bread without cheese? Or butter? On second thought, here comes a burrata appetizer nestled neatly on a bed of spinach as it says "¿Por que no los dos?"
A food writer I trust once characterized the vieux-riche but scrumptious delicacy called burrata cheese as "outrageously creamy" and being basically cream wrapped in mozzarella with its very name being Italian for "buttered," what else would you expect? Then add truffles to the cream and you have something so inexplicably glorious.
To add to the number of heresies, at least according to the French, the salad arrives before the meal, a simple romaine bowl dotted with black olives, red onion and tomato, which will either bring back memories of tasty Greek salads or unpleasantly generic and tasteless green salads packaged on an assembly line, not worthy even of a Souper Salad. Fortunately it's the former, the creamy garlic dressing slathered over the top is more than serviceable.
Well, you'd at least get to laugh at everyone else's puny spaghetti and meatballs when you dig into a tomato-bathed platter of gnocchi with meatballs and the not-quite-meatloaf Braciola. Gnocchi are commonly feared as being difficult to make and perhaps it isn't totally untrue as the tomato sauce ended up overcooking the gnocchi, but there's just so much of that tasty sauce that the woman with a white hat at your bedside doesn't have to watch you "nurse" your disappointment until you start to swoon over the polpette and Braciola that remind you of la cucina di tua nonna! It's classic comfort food for whatever might ail you.
Some analog of the words "alla Chef" affixed to a dish on the menu is basically shorthand for "Recipe? We don't need no stinkin' recipe!" and while it's often either an inventive and original creation or a hobbled mess, is sometimes like this veal dish topped with shrimp and artichoke hearts - a promising dish that just has too many moving parts. The veal is cooked properly with a delicate yellow sauce that eminently fits the light color and flavor of the veal, but the shrimp are clearly not the prime quality the basically-peninsula state of Florida has every right to expect. The whole state just looks like the USA got envious of Iberia and decided it wanted its own shrimping net, what gives?
Fortunately elsewhere, the food is pristinely fresh, and perhaps the secret to this essential ingredient in authentic Italian cuisine, is the rotating menu, changing every few days to few weeks into something new and fresh. So if you're reading this and want to get your burro off your Pizza Hut-stained couch for some burrata, it's already too late unless you own a DeLorean and live in the land of no speed limits! But if you don't, still don't expect disappointment at Antonio's, as it's assuredly one diamond in the rough. This is no low-rent Italian restaurant that is the bane of the Big Boy's existence!
The Big Boy says, "Get thee to this eatery! This is 'The Real Thing' in Italian cuisine!"