Friends know how much I love a good cappuccino, so after a third friend told me about the joys of morning coffee at Al Bacio – “and you’re going to love the little biscotti that comes with any coffee” – I went. Two cappuccinos later – with a serious yearning for a third – I was hooked.
Al Bacio is on Park Avenue just north of the Morse Museum, and since I’m always looking for something different – especially among limited breakfast spots – I’m very happy to be writing about this family-owned and -operated Italian restaurant. It also made me realize that I never walk north of the Morse Museum, so I ask you to join me as we step just one building north of our “comfort zone” to Brandywine Square.
Al Bacio offers a large selection of coffees, from traditional Italian and American to strong espresso or their own Mocacino, Coffee Al Bacio or Café Mios. And yes, the biscotti are adorable and made-fresh-daily delicious.
This favorable experience made me want to check out the lunch and dinner menus, so I invited a lunch guest to join me at 505 N. Park Ave. At lunch we got to experience one of my favorite things about Orlando. We were greeted immediately as part of the attentive service we received, and then – while looking over the menu – we listened to the wait-staff speaking Italian, Italian music in the background, and a friendly atmosphere that allowed us to close our eyes and listen to our mini-vacation in Italy.
That European friendliness is happily accompanied by a total lack of pretension. Al Bacio greets all kinds of clientele, with no need to dress up, making it an easy choice for breakfast and lunch. As mentioned, the restaurant is family owned with a father who constantly goes back and forth to Italy to visit his family – and try out new recipes.
Daughter Bianca is a full co-owner; she speaks to half the employees in Italian, speaks to the other employees in Spanish, and speaks to us in English. It was Bianca who served me my first Al Bacio cappuccino. Congratulations to Miss Bianca who recently received her B.A. in International Business on a scholarship from Rollins. Immediately upon graduation, her parents said to her, “OK, now you’ve got a degree – make some decisions.” So she did. Bianca’s first decision is to install a dining bar where there used to be cold cases of pastries. That decision is a good one as it will be the very place for those who want a quick morning coffee, and choose to sit there and drink it. A solo client is happy to sit at a bar, but doesn’t feel ‘right’ about sitting at a four-top table with ‘only’ a cup of coffee.
Bianca understands the importance of the family vibe of the restaurant, and tries to carry that open, friendly, sharing feeling from Italy where stories of friends – and strangers – sharing food are legendary.
Al Bacio offers an extensive menu for both lunch and dinner, and still Chef Chiukok offers specials of the day on most days. We chose his special – a lobster ravioli in vodka sauce, and the dish lived up to its luxurious title ingredients. When I asked about the spice that left that “little zing on the tongue,” Chef came out of the kitchen to personally reveal the secret to our table. Not sure the color of my face when I learned the secret ingredient was – black pepper.
We asked Bianca to name her favorite pasta, and it was an assured Spaghetti Carbonara. We understood why when we tasted this blend of parmigian and other cheeses with small chunks of pancetta, which translates loosely as bacon (think ham).
The restaurant is proud of its unique paninis, and I chose the Dello Chef Panini, because I liked the interesting mix of ingredients – finely chopped artichoke and anchovies with pistachio mortadella (bologna with pistachios) and provolone cheese. These varied flavors are intense and wonderful and support each other beautifully. I can’t imagine a better panini, but I also like the ingredients listed for the Park Avenue Panini … Hey, when in Rome!
A traditional Italian meal offers a meat course after the pasta course, and we chose to share the Scalloppini Pizzaiola, which was a real steak, marinated to boneless tenderness and then covered with all the toppings of a great pizza. How could you not love that; it was fabulous.
To atone for our caloric sins, we ordered the Tuscany Salad – Spring greens with grilled chicken, bacon, almond slivers, blue cheese, chunks of apple, cranberries, and (their own version of) Italian dressing. That occasional bite of fresh apple is a recurring and pleasant surprise, and a reminder of the fact that everything in this salad is healthful.
That biscotti I mentioned is but the beginning of the fantasy desserts offered at Al Bacio. It is tradition for an Italian eatery to have a dessert chef who is responsible for the made-fresh-daily desserts – from cheesecake and tiramisu to cupcakes and pastries, the choices are wondrous and vast. As a very real chocaholic, I chose Chef Womac’s double – no make that triple – layered chocolate fudge cake, which was better than eating plain fudge. The cake has layers of texture and taste, which I spread out over three delicious dessert servings.
Al Bacio is a wonderful find – a welcoming Italian family cafe, located on the quiet end of Park Avenue. From the cappuccino (and baby biscotti) to the spoken Italian accents and the family’s very real desire to please their customers, Al Bacio invites you to let the atmosphere do its magic, smell the coffee and find yourself meeting a new family on the streets of Sorrento. Go ahead – ask for another baby biscotti … and breathe.