Fall in Love with Sarasota’s Valentino

5 Nov

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Another good lunch find in Sarasota today. Funny, I’ve lived here a full year (as of this week) and I am still discovering really good restaurants in unexpected places. Valentino Pizzeria & Trattoria, located at 4045 Clark Road, has actually been open for over two years now. Business remains pretty brisk according to my smiling waitress, Andrea. “We’ve just made it through another off-season,” she proudly proclaimed. And with good reason! This is a tough town to make a go of it — given the sluggish tourist economy, plentiful dining choices, and the “feast or famine” seasonal customer base. The key to making it all work is very simple … good food and friendly service. Both are “abundanza” at Valentino.

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The menu is a bit overwhelming. “So many choices, so little time!” Pizza, pasta, sandwiches, soups, salads, desserts — it all sounds so blasted good. I chose to start with one of the tried and true basics. It’s called “Grandma’s Sunday Gravy.” And no, it’s not the stuff you ladle over your Thanksgiving turkey and dressing. Real Italians know that gravy is a term used for tomato sauce or, in some circles, spaghetti sauce. This particular entree is equipped with your choice of pasta (I went linguine), homemade tomato sauce, a big chunky meat ball, a link of fennel-specked Italian sausage, and topped with “pot cheese” (aka ricotta). Not only was it amazing, it also forever put to rest the argument that “tomato sauce is tomato sauce.” They are not all the same, people. This stuff puts the store-bought Ragu junk to shame. It’s so incredibly sweet and fresh with no funky or bitter aftertaste. And best of all, the subtle sweetness comes from the tomatoes, not a heaping helping of sugar or corn syrup. That’s amore!

Even the accompanying bread was warm and flavorful … not the typical cold hardtack served at most run of the mill Italian eateries. It was a very nice touch not overlooked or taken for granted by yours truly. The whole deal only cost about $8, so the experience wasn’t that taxing on my incredible shrinking wallet. Honestly, I can’t wait to go back and begin exploring the remainder of the daunting menu at Valentino. The Dejura Gorgonzola is definitely on my hit list. So is Butchie’s Bolognese and Flo’s Homemade Cheese Ravioli. I might even save room for a little cannoli (they import their’s from New York).

I’m guessing this will become a regular South Sarasota lunch haunt for this “paesano.” Take a first look for yourself at www.valentinopizzeria.com

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