Pizza and Italian food never go out of style with our family. Today, the neighborhood pizzeria has gotten a makeover with more atmosphere and gourmet toppings, making pizza not just a favorite of kids. Here are three of the new generation of pizza places in Broward.
When Valentino’s Cucina Italiana expanded to a larger Fort Lauderdale space, owner Giovanni Rocchio turned the old space into a casual pizzeria.
“Most of the pizzerias around here are more New York style,” said Chris Rocchio, who runs the casual eatery for his brother. “We’re trying to be a little different and more like what you would find in Italy.”
The restaurant was tiny when it was Valentino’s and that hasn’t changed. It was packed on a recent Friday night and tables are close enough that you can easily ogle your neighbors’ food or overhear their conversation. The setting and menu remind me of small street cafes in Italy.
The 12-inch thin crust pizza is the signature item here. The menu is simple classic Italian cuisine, but the choices are an edited selection and a step above your basic red sauce joint. Choices are divided into red and white pizza with authentic toppings like speck, mortadella, broccoli rabe, truffle oil and more. Plus you’ll find a couple of calzones, foccacia and about a half-dozen choices each of entrees and pastas. Mixed with more traditional items like lasagna and chicken scarpariello are creative dishes like Chicken Valentino, featuring spinach, white raisins, pine nuts, goat cheese and mushrooms. Avoid entrees if you want to keep the tab down.
Our large party opted for dishes that had the most universal appeal since sharing was the plan. Pizzas of eggplant parmigiana and a rustica with roasted red peppers, spicy salami, sausage and red onions were winners. A plate of linguini with white clam sauce was loaded with steamed clams in the shell, but the sauce could have benefited from more garlic. Garganelli pasta with a homemade sausage ragu was a hearty flavorful dish perfect for a cool night or a day when comfort food is in order.
Next time we’ll save room for a Nutella calzone. We can’t wait to return; it’s a lot cheaper than a trip to Italy.
Osteria Acqua & Farina, 1145 Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale; 954-523-1140; www.osteriafl.com; appetizers & salads $9-$13; pastas $14-$16; pizzas/foccacia/calzone $11-$16; entrees $16-$24.
Russo’s Coal-Fired Italian Kitchen
This Houston-based chain opened in Pembroke Pines earlier this year as it embarks on a South Florida expansion. If this first franchise-owned restaurant is any indication, we think there’s a market for Russo’s here. The spacious restaurant has a warm feel with wood floors, black crystal chandeliers and lots of cozy booths.
While there’s a lot of competition in the coal-fired pizza segment, what makes Russo’s different is the depth and breadth of the menu. There are 15 New York style specialty pizzas, plus another eight Napoletana style specialty pizzas, four flatbread bruschettas and the ability to create-your-own New York style pizza. This isn’t the blackened-style coal-fired pizza, but a much lighter baked version more akin to a brick-oven preparation.
If you’re not in the mood for pizza, there’s a plethora of pastas, sandwiches, salads and entrees. Portions are large and perfect for sharing. Prices are quite reasonable, with most items under $15. The restaurant also offers a gluten-free pizza option and a multi-grain pasta. Menu selections are a mix of traditional Northern and Southern Italian favorites, including recipes passed down from Chef Anthony’s grandparents.