Italy is not only the world’s largest wine producer, it’s also the king of food-friendly wines, making its bottlings a natural choice to pair with Thanksgiving dinner. From luminous sparklers and racy reds to velvety vino da meditazione (“meditation wines”), Italy has your Turkey Day covered.
Nov 9, 2018
Cafe Italia is a wonderful restaurant. The food, wine, service is always wonderful. The prices are more than reasonable. I highly recommend this neighborhood jewel – a little piece of Italy right in Oakland Park.
I would like to thank you for a great evening experience, me and my other had a very nice and romantic time. The wine is excellent for the price and we will be seeing you again.
I always like to visit different restaurants, to taste their gourmet food, cuisine, especially Italian is my favorite. Me and my friend have visited many restaurants in fort lauderdale and miami, tri-county area restaurants and bars, cafes and much more.
We walked by a small restaurant one day as we were going to the beach and grabbed a menu, so that we could return for some dinner on the way back.
It was excellent! The service was great and friendly people all around, the food was cooked with passion and this small romantic restaurant in fort lauderdale, was trendy, relaxed, kick-back kinda feel.
The music they played was italian lyrics and older italian songs, like Mina and Eros Ramazzotti, which went really good with the decor of the restaurant and the fine italian cuisine.
Miami Diner Restaurant Review
Synchronized Dynamics, Inc
“On a dark overcast day, I was on my way to the Fort Lauderdale International Airport, when I spotted a small ‘hole in the wall’ type restaurant as I was sitting in traffic.
I thought to my self, I might as well pull in since I am close to the entrance to satisfy my craving for food.
Soon I realized it was a cozy atmosphere with friendly people. I told them about my small trip to England regarding my work as a computer tech and business owner of dedicated server hosting company, and I thought to myself thought nobody would ever reproduce what I’ve eaten in Italy.
I was wrong, as soon as I brought the fork up to my mouth I tasted the flavor which had brought me back memories of when I was in Italy. As far as I was concerned, I was in Italy for a day!”
The spaghetti carbonara is the BEST I’ve ever had!
_ Albert James,President and CEO
Synchronized Dynamics, Inc.
It seems as if I spend my life in Italian restaurants picking apart menus, dining rooms and meals, trying to discern the relative value of a dining experience.
But the truth is that I believe the best restaurants, Italian or otherwise, are not necessarily the ones with the finest Riedel glasses, French- trained waiters and the oldest balsamic vinegar — though that certainly can help — but rather those that give diners a good feeling of welcoming and home. The ones that convey a feeling of conviviality, that entice the appetite not only with fine food but with fine hospitality.
Café Italia Fort Lauderdale is just such a place. Though the decor is strictly generic strip mall and the tableware equally unimpressive, owner Francesco Lapi is such an omnipresent source of warmth that it is hard to find much fault with the place.
On a recent Wednesday, my husband and a friend visiting from Alabama stopped for a late dinner. Lapi greeted us literally with open arms, seating us and asking how we knew about his 8- year-old storefront.
He immediately dispatched a waiter to bring us bread and take our drink orders, but Lapi came back to describe his wine-by-the-bottle collection, lacking a list. With some slight prompting he was happy to tell us the prices, which ranged from about $25 for a simple Chianti to more than $100. We chose a velvety Amarone that was perfect for sipping with the crusty peasant bread. As for the bread, it would have been better warmed and accompanied by olive oil instead of butter, which, incidentally, is served in fast-food-style foil blocks.
We took some time to look over the simple and compact menu with dishes mostly from central Italy but with some representative favorites from all over the boot. It turns out Lapi is from the Abruzzo.
For appetizers we chose eggplant rollatini , two evenly breaded and gently fried fillets rolled around a warm filling of ricotta cheese and an untraditional flower of broccoli. It was covered in a sauce of crushed tomatoes that was tangy and fresh if not exciting.
We also sampled the rappini, known in my family as broccoli di rabe ($6.99) and found it to be just fine. The tender and pleasantly bitter leaves were bathed in olive oil and accompanied by half a dozen garlic cloves sauté ed to a perfect golden brown.
A simple bowl of pasta e fagioli was hearty and satisfying with lots of beans and enough ditalini that was perhaps a bit too mushy, some celery and tomatoes, and the requisite herbs.
Like the other dishes it could have used salt and maybe crushed red pepper to liven it up a bit.
With such generous portions it was hard to think about main courses but they arrived quickly.
The yellowtail snapper, ($17.99) the restaurant’s signature dish, was fantastic. The fish was light and moist and served with the tail rakishly draped off the plate. It was accented with a lovely sauce of tomatoes, garlic and button mushrooms, with a slight hint of white wine. A bowl of al dente pasta was a competent accompaniment.
But the pasta that would bring me back was the spaghetti carbonara ($13.99), which my husband ordered. I don’t know how he always ends up ordering the best thing on the menu. But that is another story!
The perfectly al dente strands of dense pasta were coated with a rich sauce that brought to mind a perfectly poached egg with a vibrant flavor and color of the golden egg yolk enhanced by delicate strips of smoky pancetta and a good dose of black pepper.
We decided to skip dessert since the waiter fessed up that they were shipped in by a commercial producer. Nonetheless, coffees, espresso and American, were uniformly good on their own.
I’d go back to Café Italia in Fort Lauderdale if not for the spectacular food, then for the pleasant and personable service, moderate prices, the relaxed setting and a pasta that inspires cravings just thinking about it.
_ Critic Victoria Pesce Elliott
The Herald Dining Section
City Link Magazine
When people recommend restaurants, I always listen, then take their suggestions with a grain of salt. But a friend called recently, and when he calls, I pay close attention, because he rarely raves about restaurants.
Said friend first learned to cook at his Italian grandmother’s knee before going to professional cooking schools in the Northeast and Europe. He is also the owner and chef of one of South Florida’s finest seafood restaurants.
So when he said the nine-year-old Cafe Italia serves the finest Italian food this side of the Old Country, his recommendation, hyperbole aside, did not go unheeded.
The Cafe occupies the ground floor of an office building on Federal Highway midway between Commercial and Oakland Park boulevards. Plate glass windows form two exterior walls, and the side facing the building’s lobby is covered with large, colorful posters.
Wall sections are painted lime green, butterscotch or a light cranberry, and a dark-wood bar sits in front of the wall opposite the posters. Tablecloths and napkins are starched white linen. Decor is unpretentious at best, but here the food’s the thing.
Francesco Lapi is the owner and chef of the cafe. He is a short, relatively quiet man but becomes quite animated when discussing his food, and the pride in his voice is clearly discernible.
He is proud of the food he buys, which is always first-quality and mostly Italian, and he will bring some of his ingredients to your table even without your asking — not to show off but to reinforce the notion that he does things his way.
His menu contains nothing you wouldn’t find in many other Italian restaurants, but everything he cooks just tastes different than anything you’ve had elsewhere. Ingredients are uncommonly fresh, pastas are strictly Italian, and his sublime sauces are rich with flavor but ethereally light.
Take his eggplant rollatini, for example. Despite the melted cheese, bits of bright-green broccoli stuffed within and very tomatoey and exceptionally light sauce, the taste of just-picked eggplant remained the mainstay of the dish. This is one dish you won’t quickly forget.
Other appetizers are simple affairs but as good as they get. Broccoli raab and Caprese salad, thick tomato slices with smoky mozzarella, made outstanding starters. And Mediterranean flat bread and prosciutto with melon were equally delicious.
The pasta dishes we tried were sublime. Spaghetti alla carbonara combines pasta with pancetta, Parmigiano-Reggiano, black pepper and an egg yolk for a mingling of flavors that will linger long after the end of the meal.
Lapi marries wide pappardelle noodles with thick, strongly aromatic and earthy porcini mushrooms. He then adds large, succulent shrimp that are perfectly cooked, tosses in garlic and wine and finishes the mixture in a heady but light cream sauce that is also unforgettable.
The lusty aromas from the dish reach your table long before the food does — a clear indication of just how wonderful it is. The cafe also serves porcini mushrooms with wine and perfectly cooked risotto.
Exceptionally firm penne mixes well in a cream sauce garnished with olives, crisp broccoli florets and mushrooms. And if you like lasagna, Lapi layers the noodles with a light bechamel sauce and mozzarella that melts like lava, then tops it all with his exceptional Bolognese sauce.
The usual chicken and veal dishes — cacciatore, Milanese, Livornese and Marsala — are available, and every one is several steps ahead of the competition.
Osso buco and roasted leg of lamb are also served. Seafood offerings include dolphin, salmon, tuna, sole and snapper.
Yellowtail snapper is Lapi’s signature dish, and it was extraordinary in its simplicity. Half a snapper, with its yellow tail perched at the end of the plate, was so fresh it had probably been caught the afternoon of our visit.
It sat in a wine-and- garlic sauce and was garnished with button mushrooms and diced tomatoes — so simple, yet so delectable. Snapper never tasted like this.
Given the flavors of previous courses, we could never expect desserts to measure up. They were very good but below the standards set by the rest of the meal.
Tiramisu was soaked with liquor, and the top layer of custard quivered when we touched it. Ricotta cheesecake was nice and not too sweet, but the chocolate mousse was served nearly frozen. Still, Cafe Italia does Italian food like no other restaurant, and will forever change your thinking on Italian cooking.
Critic William Fox
CityLink Fine Dining Critic
Traveling by train in Italy means always traveling with carry-on luggage. You’ll carry on board everything you have with you. It’s your responsibility to bring your bags on board and stow them properly, which is a great incentive to packing light. There’s no fee to bring luggage on the train.
The on-board luggage storage options differ depending on the type of train. On the newer high-speed trains, there are storage areas at one end of each train car, often across from the bathroom, which are available for anyone in that car to use for their larger bags.
On the older trains, the only real storage areas are overhead shelves above the seats. Sometimes there is room to stow medium or small bags in the space created when two seats are situated back-to-back. Smaller bags, such as backpacks, purses, and briefcases can be slid underneath the seat.
Trenitalia isn’t responsible for lost bags, so it’s your responsibility to keep an eye on luggage even if it’s stowed at the end of the train car. There is, however, insurance against bag theft that applies to most Trenitalia passengers. If a bag is taken from the storage compartment at the end of the car of a Frecce or InterCity train, the insurance maximum is €300 for a single bag and €600 per customer. The maximum for other trains are lower, and the rules for filing an insurance claim are strict.
There are porters at some stations that can be hired to help passengers with luggage. Porters can be hired at Roma Termini, Milano Centrale, Bologna Centrale, and Firenze SMN. You must book this service in advance by phone, and the cost of the service is €5 which is paid directly to the porter.
There is a door-to-door option for sending your bags from point to point rather than carrying it with you. It’s called Bagaglio Facile, and the costs start at €20 for the first bag and €15 for the second. It’s available to all travelers on Frecce trains, or anyone who has a CartaFreccia card.
Bagaglio Facile is only available Monday to Friday for most stations, although it operates on weekends in the cities of Milan, Rome, Florence, Venice, Turin, Bologna, Naples, Salerno, and Bari. Arrangements for Bagaglio Facile must be made by phone at least 24 hours in advance of your departure time.
If you’re stopping midway on your journey and want to do some sightseeing before your next train departs, many stations offer some kind of luggage storage service. Luggage lockers are no longer the norm for security reasons, but there are often offices with staff where you can leave your bags for a period of time for a fee.
1. Greet everyone with two kisses
Regardless of age, gender and how well you know them, when you meet someone you greet them with two kisses, one on each cheek. Italians are very affectionate people and aren’t afraid to burst your personal space bubble to say hello. Two kisses are the common greeting in Italy and anything less will just look awkward
2. Don’t order a cappuccino after 11 AM
Cappuccino is strictly a breakfast drink. If you order one anytime after 11 AM, especially with a meal, people will think you’re either weird or had a huge night out and only just woke up.
3. Enjoy a mid-afternoon “riposino”
Foreigners often complain about shops closing at lunch break. Unfortunately, that is the reality of things in Italy, especially in summer. The stifling noon heat makes everybody hide from the sun during the hottest hours of the day. Take a “riposino” (a nap) and try again after 4pm, you will have better chances of finding open shops.
4. Don’t put ketchup on pasta or pizza
Every time you ask for ketchup in a restaurant you break an Italian chef’s heart. Ketchup is totally acceptable on a burger or fries, but if you put it on pasta or a pizza you will stand out like a sore thumb in Italy and earn yourself some disapproving nods from the people at nearby tables.
5. Start your day with a sweet breakfast
The classic Italian breakfast is a sweet pastry of some sort, a coffee or cappuccino and occasionally orange juice. Most hotels and restaurants won’t even serve a cooked savoury breakfast. So, embrace the start of your new Italian day by heading to the closest bar and ordering “un caffé” to drink at the counter with your croissant and orange juice.
6. Dress up
This isn’t just a stereotype, Italians like to dress well. Despite some Italians being casual, the majority are well dressed. So, on your next trip to Italy show off that new dress or pair of sunglasses and you will blend right in with the fashionable locals, especially in Milan.
7. Don’t visit in summer
Summer is the worst time to visit Italy and when a lot of Italians leave the country. With the school holidays and nice weather, tourists from all around the world flock to Italy, making all the prices skyrocket. If you’re visiting a city like Rome or Milan, the Italian heat combined with the crowds will make it a particularly unpleasant experience. Instead, try to visit in spring or autumn, when the weather is still mild, the prices cheaper and places not as overcrowded. Early June is ideal, when the days are still long and the prospect of the upcoming summer puts everyone in a good mood.
8. Don’t stand in lines
Italians have a special way of queuing, they try to avoid it where possible. You will find there are informal queues everywhere you go – whether you’re buying a ticket at the cinema, ordering food at McDonalds, or waiting to board a plane. Lines resemble more of a mob instead of an orderly line. This is normal in Italy and you have to learn to make the most of it if you don’t want the worst seat on the plane. Wiggle your way to the front and stand with the attitude as if that is your rightful spot in the queue. People will rarely challenge you, mostly because to be at the front with you they probably also cut the queue.
9. Embrace the “aperitivo” way of life
In case you didn’t know already, Italians love food. Since three meals a day aren’t enough for us to properly enjoy all our tasty cuisine, we decided to add a meal between lunch and dinner; the glorious “aperitivo”. Intended as a pre-dinner this can often turn into a full-on dinner depending on where you are. If you sit down for an aperitivo between 5pm and 8pm, most bars will bring you crisps, pizzas and all sorts of snacks and nibbles with your Aperol Spritz (the aperitivo drink by definition). A lot of places have evolved into the “aperi-cena” where with 10 EUR you can get a drink and an all you can eat buffet. Aperitivo is usually the most common type of social hangout and if you want to really blend in in Italy, consider trying one out.
10. Stop and talk to people
In Italy, no one is in a rush. Regardless of what commitments you may have, if you bump into someone you know in the middle of the street, you stop for a chat. Yes, you might be late for your restaurant reservation, but chatting with the locals is important to better understanding the local way of life and generally people run late anyway. Be polite when someone says hello and remember the phrase “buona giornata” which means “have a good day” when you say bye.
11. Drink only water, wine or beer with meals
Both at home or in restaurants the most common drinks will always be water, beer or wine. Most restaurants don’t serve cocktails. Children can drink sodas with meals but adults should steer clear as it’s perceived to cover up the taste of the food whereas water will allow you to properly enjoy your meal.
12. Do things later
Everything happens later in Italy. You wake up later, have lunch and dinner later, and go to bed later. If you ask your new Italian friends to have dinner any earlier than 7 PM they will look at you in horror.
13. Speak with your hands
Once again, this isn’t just a stereotype. Italians gesture a lot while talking, we don’t even realize we’re doing it. We find it adds to the conversation, especially if you’re explaining directions. Give it a go, next time you talk to someone in Italy, throw in some hand gestures for good measure – it will make you easier to understand!
14. Have your coffee at the counter
In Italy, if you order a coffee at the counter you will never pay more than 1 EUR, 1.50 at most. However, if you sit down at a table they can charge you as much as they want because of cost of service to bring it to you. In prime tourist spots such as Piazza Duomo in Milan or Piazza San Marco in Venice this can be even more than 5 EUR. Be like the Italians and save yourself some cash by having your coffee on the go at the counter. You can order it by saying “un caffè per favore”.
Schedule your birthday party at Cafe Italia with decorations and your own menu. We can have a pre set menu or a la carte. Seats 50 and you have have the entire restaurant for the entire night if you would like.
We have been hosting parties for over 20 years and am sure you will have a wonderful fun time at Cafe Italia Ristorante!
Come in and make arrangements today! Special pricing available for parties
Sun-Sentinel Dining Correspondent
Spend just five minutes in Francesco Lapi’s Cafe Italia, and there’s little doubt that this professional lives his passion.
An evening in this restaurant on the ground floor of an office building begins with a warm welcome followed by seating at one of 14 or so linen-covered tables. The unpretentious decor — walls painted a soothing fresco of deeply vibrant hues, each color playing nicely off the other — dovetails with the simplicity of the food.
It’s a subtle dinner menu, with moderate pricing and Italian standards, prepared Abruzzi style — sometimes excelling well beyond regional confines. Look for lasagna ala Bolognese; eggplant parmigiana; chicken cacciatore; zuppa di pesce; veal saltimbocca; and roast leg of lamb.
The perfect little Italian restaurant near me
Best of all, every table receives Lapi’s personal service and attention, in a one-man show supported by a small wait staff. He keeps the wine list in his head, so give him a rough idea of what you like and he’ll deliver appropriate selections.
Ask a few questions about the food and watch him shine. Don’t be surprised if he returns from the kitchen with bags of durum semolina pasta, or some other ingredient he thinks might interest you, to show his quality wares first hand. And, if you seem to be over-ordering, expect a gentle warning. Most portion sizes are large and there’s a quick caution about too many appetizers spoiling your entrees. It’s sort of like eating at your mother’s house — and I say that in the most loving sort of way.
Start with eggplant rollatini — unbreaded eggplant wrapped around bits of broccoli, topped with melted cheese and a delicate tomato sauce. Or, savor pleasing interpretations of refreshing salad caprese or prosciutto with melon.
I like risotto as a first course, so it wasn’t long before we reveled in Lapi’s risotto con porcini. This rice has the perfect bite and texture. The flavors of porcini mushrooms and onions marry beautifully.
Ditto on a richly luscious spaghetti carbonara — pasta cooked al dente, tossed with crispy pancetta, egg yolk, parmigiana and black pepper.
There was no leg of lamb prepared when we visited, so we took solace in the four gorgeous seared lamb chops Lapi recommended instead. Bathed in oil and garlic, the meat was nearly soft enough to cut with a fork.
Chicken marsala brought a plateful of boneless breasts with plenty of mushrooms in a sauce edging to the sweet and oily side, but the flavors were terrific.
The osso buco aficionado at our table thought was reasonable for the quality and quantity of tender veal slow-cooked in tomato sauce with celery, onions, carrots and red wine — and so did everyone who sampled it.
If you want an exquisite fresh fish experience, there’s no better choice than the signature yellowtail snapper. This stunning whole fish presentation (minus the head), arrives with its tail rising off the plate like a phoenix poised for flight. Mushrooms, diced tomatoes, wine and garlic delicately perfume the snow-white meat.
On the other hand, be sure you like porcinis before you order paparadelle mare e monti, a pasta and shrimp dish too intense with porcini flavors that also carried some unfortunately overcooked shrimp.
Have semifreddo cafe for dessert; it’s like chocolate mocha ice cream, or good American-style cheesecake with a crisp chocolate crust. While savoring the extra-creamy qualities, ponder this: What better way to experience a service business than with a man who works from his heart?
Critic Judith Stock
Sun Sentinel Dining Correspondent