It’s one thing to be the “flavor of the month” and better to be the “choice of the year,” but it places a business in a whole other category to celebrate 20 years of being a popular restaurant – especially along Park Avenue in Winter Park. That is exactly what is happening for the “totally friendly – bring-the-family” Pannullo’s Italian Restaurant where owners Richard Pannullo and Michael Schwartz are celebrating 20 years of restaurant success in the same location.
And the real winners are those of us who know this restaurant for its mouth-watering, classic Italian dishes, abundant portions and affordable prices. It was a real joy to join Richard, Michael, Mayor Ken Bradley and a host of their friends and family for their 20-year celebration dinner on March 20 – complete with engraved, commemorative bottles of red wine.
But since there are folks who have not yet experienced the all-around ‘goodness’ that is Pannullo’s, lets talk about the food. Beginning with a gourmand’s feast of appetizers (in portions that would be suitable as entrée portions in a lesser establishment), we began with the Salmon Bruschetta. Now it can be said that every Italian restaurant in a four-state radius is proud of their special blend of tomatoes, garlic, and basil, but the addition of fresh grilled salmon makes all the difference. Chances are your doctor wants you eating salmon at least once a week (and I love salmon), but this particular mix – unique to Pannullo’s – is a brilliant combination of taste treats that comes highly recommended.
Seafood lover that I am, my dining partner and I also tried the mussels – offered in one’s choice of marinara or white wine sauce – (we tried both) – and I can happily recommend both. The marinara sauce is special with fresh chunks of tomato, while the garlicy white wine sauce wins with that wonderful option of dipping your bread in the sauce once the mussels are a tasty memory.
I always try the meatballs when I “go Italian” – because who doesn’t love meatballs? Especially when they are described as “the way Grandma made them.” Grandma would be proud. Affordably priced, these meatballs are superb. And finally – at our server’s suggestion – we tried an appetizer portion (also offered as an entrée portion) of the Ravioli Terracina, which turned out to be my OMG experience of the evening. This dish is the ultimate comfort food with creamy ricotta filled raviolis served in a mushroom, spinach and parmesan cream sauce. And remember, we ordered the appetizer portion, which was so plentiful I could only imagine what the entrée portion would be.
Pannullo’s is open seven days a week at 216 S. Park Avenue in Winter Park. Call 407-629-7270 or visit pannullos.com
Moving on to the entrees, I hasten to remind you the Ravioli Terracina can be ordered as an entrée (come with a big appetite), and it comes highly recommended. We also tried the eggplant parmigiana, which led to two observations: first, the eggplant is beautifully cooked in thick slices, which allows one to actually taste the vegetable part of this offering, and second, that each of these comes with a side order of pasta, which is cooked to al dente perfection. I’ve concluded the al dente thing is unique to Italian chefs who must have a sixth sense about timing their pasta.
We also tried the Chicken Marsala, which – according to our server – is a house specialty. When you taste it you will understand why. Not only is the chicken breast juicy and tender (an art in itself), but Pannullo’s is possibly the finest Marsala sauce I’ve tasted. “It takes the right wine,” said the chef when I inquired about his secret.
Without actually saving room for dessert, we had to try the made-on-premises Cannoli – fabulous – and the Tiramisu – even more fabulous, and I’ve gotta say, “Save room.”
When I asked owner/manager Michael Schwartz about his secret for their long-standing success, we talked about the fact that there is an owner/manager on-site for every shift – and Pannullo’s is open seven days a week. We also talked about the restaurant’s true family style, which Richard and Michael like to extend to their customers and to their employees as well. No doubt – one of the most telling traits of a successful restaurant is happy servers. Finally, however, Michael talked about what the restaurant is not. It is not a bar. It is a family restaurant … and that is truly special as witnessed by the extended, three-generation family dining at the table next to us. Speaking in Italian, this family had somehow found the right place for them to feel at home, and that is a better indicator of how good this restaurant is – far beyond my words of praise.
And if you’ve read this far – in celebration of their 20 years of happily and successfully serving families on Park Avenue – Richard and Michael would like to offer a buy-one-get-one free entrée (max value $15) when you present this review to your waiter. (They’ll even accept a Xerox copy of the offer), but you must have a copy of this paragraph to receive your free entrée, and don’t forget to tell them, “Josh sent me.” I love the food and the atmosphere of this family restaurant, and I’m happy to send you.