I have no idea what Riverview ever did to deserve a shining epicurean gem of Caffé Italia's ilk, but it must've done it in a previous life. For now, I'm not going to ponder the whys and hows, but simply count my blessings and pray that my fellow Brandonites give this place the support and respect it deserves. If you don't, I'll be forced to remind you that "this is why we can't have nice things" over a tasty repast at Crapplebee's on SR 60.
Chef Franco LoRe, formerly of the now defunct Laughing Cat in Ybor, doesn't miss a beat in his new, smaller digs. The tiny place, tucked away in a strip mall on Big Bend Road, makes up for what it lacks in ambiance with quality, quantity and a generous BYOB policy. While no alcohol is served on the premises, diners are encouraged to bring their own. There's no corkage fee if you tote along wine glasses and a $5 per person charge if you don't. Since wine can often ratchet a tab up by 50% or more for UD and me, that's a bargain I can firmly stand behind. We arrived at 4:30 on a Saturday and had the place to ourselves until it began filling up half an hour later with fellow wine-carrying diners.
We received excellent service from Greg, who popped a loaf of fine Italian bread into the oven as soon as we arrived and deposited it on our table, hot and crispy, within 10 minutes. Greg divulged that the bread was not made onsite, but that it is locally sourced...however, had I not asked, I never would've guessed that it hadn't just been freshly baked to order.
Melenzana Rollatini practically melted on the tongue. The eggplant had nary a hint of bitterness and was slathered with ricotta and melted mozzarella goodness, rolled and topped with an uber-perfect tangy tomato basil marinara. We asked for an extra order of sopping bread to insure that not a drop of THAT sauce remained on the plate.
Wild Mushroom Soup was sheer nirvana. I'm not sure anyone can top Cafe Ponte's Mushroom Bisque, but it has certainly met its match in Chef LoRe's sherry-riche rendition. I suppose it depends on whether one prefers ones creamed fungi savory and homogeneous or boozy and chunky. Yes, please!
My $17.95 entree of Pappardelle Piemontese could've fed a third-world village. Almost an embarrassment of riches, the behemoth platter of wide, creamy, al dente noodles was liberally laden with salty prosciutto, sweet peas and savory wild mushrooms. To ratchet its hail damage factor a notch higher, all components were awash in a decadent 2,000-calorie-per-tablespoon Alfredo sauce (caloric content of the sauce is just a ballpark estimate...it might've been higher, so wear stretch pants). I had to bring about 75% of it home with me...but on the positive side, I got to enjoy the leftovers for the next two days. Plate sharing is allowed with a $5.00 surcharge, which is probably a good way to go unless you're a lumberjack, eating for quadruplets or training for a triathlon.
My porcine-loving better half selected a massive, breaded and fried, tender and juicy dinosaur pork chop crammed with prosciutto and provolone cheese. Just in case a pound of protein wasn't enough, the entree was flanked by penne in vodka tomato cream sauce and some surprisingly tasty and crisp veggies swimming in garlic butter (we tend to eschew veggies here at the Dog House...and, yes, we know about that annoying food pyramid but largely choose to focus on the top two tiers).
Who in the hell orders dessert after all this? As it turns out, we do. The "happy ending" options were standard issue for the most part (flourless chocolate cake, cheesecake and tiramisu), but we couldn't say "no" to house made cannoli. As wrong as it seems to state that a cannoli in East Hillsborough county trumped the ones we tasted in Italy, it did. I loved the sturdy, cookie-like, cinnamon-spiced shell and its silken, ricotta cream filling was off the chain.
This is big-city food in a small town with the option to BYOB. Hit it or you'll regret not doing so. Including the very reasonable corkage fee we incurred, our dinner tab came to $80 and we would've been completely satisfied ordering far less.
My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary restaurant patron. Every meal I post about has been fully paid for by one of the participating members of my personal dining party. I do not engage in the gratis blogger freebie dining events I'm constantly invited to attend and never will. If I ooze font-like love for a restaurant in my blog, it's because they totally earned it…not because they gave me free food or knew I was going to share the experience on the internet.