Is there anything more comforting than Italian food? There’s something for everyone in Italian cuisine; vegetarians, vegans, paleo, low-carb (okay so that one’s harder, but just because there are so many tempting pasta-based dishes). There’s also something for every budget from meals less than $10 to the sky’s the limit. No wonder it’s the preferred ethnic food in America. A long-established Wilton Manors favorite and a newcomer to the area both specialize in Italian-American fare that’s certain to satisfy. Mangia!
2468 Wilton Dr., Wilton Manors
Bona Italian has been a Wilton Manors staple since it first opened its doors in 1979, but quite frankly, the old girl was in need of a nip/tuck. Enter new owners, Glen and Mark, and the necessary changes were made. They wisely kept those things that worked; the menu by Chef Serol Cyriac, Italian-American fare with influences from the Campania region of Southern Italy, house specialties such as fazzoletti (pasta filled with fontina and prosciutto in a carbonara, bacon, onion pea sauce) or the beloved long-term servers. What they did do is hire some additional servers to round out the staff, and spruce up both the exterior (notice the fresh exterior paint job, tinted windows) and interior (linen tablecloths instead of cheap plastic). They’ve also kept the prices relatively reasonable, and all entrees come with the restaurant’s delicious garlic knots, doughy bread awash in garlic butter that are worth every damn calorie.
Starters include the expected (fried calamari, mozzarella sticks and Caprese salad) as well as unique offerings, such as eggplant rollatini (breaded eggplant rolled with ricotta and prosciutto topped with tomato sauce), scallops wrapped in bacon and mussels marinara. Entrees include standard Italian-American offerings as well as specialties of the house such as; Chicken Cyriac (spicy blackened chicken in garlic cream sauce with roasted almonds), Shrimp Napoli (with sun-dried tomatoes, fresh spinach, garlic and olive oil served over linguine) or Chicken Normandy (featuring mushrooms and apple slices in a brandy cream sauce over penne). Entrees are in the $15-$25 range and include a choice of soup or salad. For those looking to spend a bit less, the restaurant also serves pizza, calzone, stromboli and subs, priced from less than $10 to $20. I’ve never been able to finish my meal, much less contemplate a dessert, but the usual offerings are available; cannoli, tira misu, cheesecake and spumoni.
In case all of this isn’t enough to convince you to visit Bona, consider the fact that every Monday the restaurant donates 10 percent of each check to community organizations. They’ve also instituted a pre-theater dining special with Island City Stage, located just around the corner.
1100 NE 4th Ave., Fort Lauderdale
This family owned business started in Washington D.C. in 1987 and recently relocated to South Florida to bring its vibrant Italian cuisine to our neighborhood. Its isolated location, on 4th Ave., just north of Home Depot has not helped it gather a following. The owners have done their best to make the place more inviting from the outside, painting the awnings in the colors of the Italian flag and advertising the vast number of parking space (evenings you can park in the lot for the tile company next door, daytime, there’s limited parking in back). However, once you experience the friendly service and delicious, reasonably priced fare you won’t need any prompting to return time and again.
You won’t be impressed by the décor, it’s pretty standard issue, but the friendliness of the staff will be a refreshing change. The food is well prepared and reasonably priced. Appetizers run $5-$10 and include the expected (Caprese, bruschetta, fried calamari, Greek and Caesar salads). Burgers and sandwiches run $8-$10 and include some unusual options, such as chicken kebab and gyros, as well as subs and parm. Entrées tip heavily toward pasta-based dishes in the $10-$20 range, from a simple spaghetti marinara to lobster ravioli or veal marsala. All entrees include a house salad. There’s nothing remarkable about the salad, but the fact that it’s included at such a reasonable price point is a nice touch.
Another money-saving aspect of Buon Apetito is the fact that it is BYOB, not even a corkage charge. The staff is very accommodating, one of our party is avoiding carbs and they subbed sautéed zucchini for his pasta. Each dish we tried was expertly prepared and, while the portions are not huge, they provide more than enough for even the hungriest of diners.
Buon Apetito also dishes out a very good pizza. The crust is a little firmer than the classic East Coast style, sturdy enough to please a Midwesterner, but still pliable enough to satisfy a New Yorker. As with the rest of the menu, the pizzas are reasonably priced, with a medium cheese starting at less than $10 (and there’s often a $5 special). The array of desserts is fairly uninspired; tira misu, cheesecake, crème bruleé and chocolate cake, but we were too full to even consider another bite anyway. Buon Apetito deserves to make it; this scrappy little place has a lot going for it.