Forget the trip across the ocean to Italy. Francesco’s Ristorante & Pizzeria opened its doors this month in Maitland and now authentic Italian cuisine has never been closer. Taste buds will travel to southern Italy — where seafood, fish and risotto are plentiful — in this elegantly rustic Italian-themed restaurant.
Chef and co-owner Francesco Aiello is Sicilian-born and a graduate of the Istituto Alberghiero culinary school in Palermo, Italy. Orlando and the surrounding communities have enjoyed Aiello’s southern Italian cooking for the past 14 years in restaurants such as TerraMia Oven Pizza in Lake Mary and The Sicilian in Orlando.
“I’m looking to bring this idea of real Italian food to this community,” Aiello said. And that’s done in part, he says, by selecting the freshest ingredients.
“I get fresh fish, fresh mussels — only if it’s fresh will I buy it.”
Aiello is committed to his kitchen. This is where he spends most of his time, commonly grilling southern pesce fresco del giorno — the fish of the day — alongside pizza chef Leonardo, who is also from Sicily. The pizzas are baked in a wood-burning oven, which is common in Italy and big cities such as Chicago. However, Francesco’s wood-burning brick pizza oven is rare to the Orlando restaurant scene. These ovens rise to a temperature of 700 degrees in order to bake the pizzas to a thin, crispy and slightly charred crust.
“Francesco grew up cooking on that type of oven so he specifically requested it when designing [the restaurant],” said Rachel Green, operating manager of Francesco’s. “It’s very difficult to find someone who actually knows how to use them.”
To make these pizzas and other dishes, Aiello uses imported Italian flour called Caputo. He also imported a full wine bar, with a majority of the wines coming from Italy and a few from California.
“This isn’t a cookie cutter Italian restaurant like other places around here,” said Allen Suman, a customer dining at Francesco’s. Although Suman originally came to the restaurant as a hired contractor, he has returned several more times as a customer. His favorite dish is the crostini di pollo, an appetizer of toasted bread topped with chicken, tomato, garlic and melted mozzarella with just a hint of pesto sauce.
Francesco’s Ristorante & Pizzeria is located in Maitland at 400 S. Orlando Ave., Suite 104. Hours are Monday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. For more information visit francescos-rist.com
Other menu items consist mostly of traditional Italian dishes such as pasta, lasagna and personalized pizzas. There’s also a create-your-own pasta sampler as an option to combine five types of pastas and sauces. Dishes vary in price with appetizers starting at $8.95 and meat or fish entrées beginning at $11.95. The lunch specials, served from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., features dishes similar to the dinner entrees but are all priced at $8.95.
Although Aiello is in charge of most of the cooking, his parents have arrived from Italy to create and temporarily serve the desert menu — the same desserts he grew up eating as a child. Aiello’s father, Francesco Paolo, is a professional pastry chef who works alongside Aiello’s mother. Together they patiently hand-make everything from the icing on the cake gelato to the cannoli shells and cream.
“Having everything homemade — that’s what I’m trying to do that’s different from everyone else,” Aiello said.
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