Food is a valuable part of Italian culture, so it’s no wonder that Italian-American cuisine became popular after seven million Italians immigrated to America in the 1800s. Gainesville is no exception when it comes to the popularity of Italian food. From homemade mozzarella to grouper caught fresh in the Atlantic, influential recipes from Naples, Venice or the Italian countryside can take us on a taste tour of Italy here at home. For fellow pasta-lovers, we’ve rounded up a list of 10 Italian restaurants in Gainesville.
Antonio’s Italian Restaurant
Mixing traditional Italian dishes with modern gothic décor, Antonio’s is a prize Italian restaurant in Alachua. Just three years old and already adding a new extension, Antonio’s has a lot of traditional dishes to make you feel like you stopped for dinner in Italy. The dish of choice is the fettuccine pescatore, with sautéed shrimp, mussels and clams, in a spicy diavola or white wine sauce over a bed of al dente fettuccine. It goes perfectly with a Dogajolo Italian blend white wine from 2015. If you still have enough space in your stomach after that tour of the Mediterranean, you can top it off with a homemade ricotta cheesecake prepared by Arleen, Antonio’s wife.
Amelia’s Cucina Casalinga
Owner and Chef Andy Fass prides himself on the restaurant’s fresh approaches to traditional Italian dishes. Amelia’s uses only fresh ingredients and buys local produce, meats and vegetables at every opportunity. Because every dish is lovingly prepared from scratch, the kitchen does not even have a microwave. The specialty dish is the grouper posillipo: pan-seared, egg-battered grouper and Cedar Key clams on a bed of wilted spinach, covered in light marinara sauce.
Formaggio’s Bistro & Wine Bar
When you walk into Formaggio’s, you will feel as if you walked into your nonna’s home. Whether you sit inside or on the beautiful outdoor patio, Formaggio’s promises a relaxed atmosphere. The dish of choice is chicken scaloppine. Served with prosciutto, this sautéed chicken breast is topped with artichokes, mushrooms and capers with a lemon wine sauce. This dish can be paired with a crisp La Fiera Pinot Grigio. If you’re still considering fulfilling that sweet tooth, you can try the tiramisu.
Manuel’s Vintage Room
If you’re a romantic spaghetti enthusiast who dreams of recreating the iconic “Lady and the Tramp” scene, Manuel’s is definitely the place to consider. Located in downtown Gainesville, Manuel’s Vintage Room has an intimate setting and is the perfect place for a relaxing evening. The dish of choice is lamb bolognese, a meat sauce of lamb, roasted red peppers and shiitake mushrooms over a bed of capellini pasta. You can choose to top this meal with a Ruffino, or if you’re feeling a bit pricey, you can opt for a 2007 Brunello di Montalcino.
Established in 1991, Pomodoro is the perfect family restaurant, with the atmosphere of your traditional Italian “trattoria”. Their favorite dish, veal marsala, a dish sautéed with mushrooms in marsala wine sauce, is topped off with a touch of tomato sauce to give it a kick of flavor. If you still have room for dessert, stick with tradition and have a cannoli or a slice of Italian wedding cake. Owned and managed by native Italian chefs, there’s no need to fly to Italy for authentic food with Pomodoro in town.
Blue Highway Pizza
Boasting a modern atmosphere, Blue Highway Pizza is the perfect place for you to grab your friends to watch a game. The variety of Sicilian-style pizza is sure to rouse the taste buds. The pizza of choice, the Carne Combo, has mozzarella, pepperoni, sausage, genoa salami, Parmesan and Romano. Although you might be inclined to pair this pizza with wine, an ale or lager would also go perfectly. You won’t regret having pizza and beer days with your friends at Blue Highway.
Fork and Pasta
For the civilian on the go, Fork and Pasta is the perfect place to grab a fresh, homemade meal quickly and easily. Fork and Pasta makes the pasta from scratch and lets customers build their own meals. The restaurant’s famous dish, the Holy Cow Four Cheese Ravioli, is served with mushrooms, onions, spinach and a classic rosé sauce, making “quick and easy” also fulfilling and satisfying. Located across the street from the football stadium at the University of Florida, Fork and Pasta is conveniently located in the heart of town.
Fresco Pizza and Pasta
Bringing urban Italian cuisine to old town Haile, Fresco is ready to dominate the modern Italian world. The dish of choice, Sicilian chicken pasta, offers a satisfying blend of modern flavors in a dish inspired by tradition. Every Monday, the restaurant offers $10 off bottles of wine, which sounds like a win-win for the Italian meal enthusiast!
A delectable cross between a pizza joint and Italian fine dining, Piesanos offers a versatile menu for every Italian fix. With three convenient locations around Gainesville, it’s easy to pick up a pizza or sit down with a plate of chicken piccata sautéed in lemon butter. Piesanos makes its dough fresh daily and is the only restaurant in the state with a granite stone pizza oven.
O Sole Mio
O Sole Mio ends this countdown with a record-breaking special that hasn’t left the menu in over six years: the ravioli frutti di mare. The dish offers fresh-caught mahi-mahi that is lightly blackened and pan-seared and served with sautéed butterfly jumbo shrimp, red onions and a brandy sauce, all over lobster ravioli. Since this dish can be served with either white or red wine, O Sole recommends a Yauquen malbec or a PJ Valckenberg. Make sure you don’t leave without tasting nonna’s cheesecake, made with a secret recipe for the best New York-style cheesecake passed down through many generations.
Photography by Allison Durham