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Matchbook Memories: Positano

Written By Scott Joseph On March 2, 2022

Positano matches

You’re probably familiar with Caffe Positano, especially if you live in the Apopka area where the restaurant has been in business since 1997 and will be celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

And of course you’ll recall that Tornatore’s Cafe & Pizzeria in College Park was originally called Caffe Positano. There was also one in Lake Mary for a time.

But you may not remember that there was a Positano on West Colonial Drive that in a way begat the others.

It was in a strip mall at the corner of Good Homes Road and when it opened, in 1991, it was about the only place in that area where you could find something that might qualify as fine dining. (The matchbook cover says the address is in Orlando but Google Maps indicates it is in Ocoee.)

South Steel SJO March AD copy

Positano was actually two restaurants: one side was a deli and pizzeria and the other side was a full-service dining room that, as I described in my review of Aug. 25, 1991, “[…] not fancy but comfortable, with teal-colored banquettes, blue carpeting and a mural of the Italian village of Positano.”

The food was authentic and delicious and included such items as paglia e fieno, dole Florentina, and chicken Alba. The chef was Edgar Ergueta, who had moved to the new restaurant from Primavera in Altamonte Springs.

Ergueta was also a partner in the restaurant with a group that included Michele Mandara and brothers Roberto and Pasquale Barba. They were bought out in 1996 by Michael Madara and the following year the Barbas opened their restaurant in Apopka, calling it Caffe Positano to distinguish it from Positano. (For a while it was called Caffe Positanos, and indeed the restaurant’s website address still has the plural.) The opening of the new restaurant was done not only with the blessing of Michael Mandala but also with his participation – he was an investor.

Even with the name change there was confusion. Around 2000, I had a weekly column in the Orlando Sentinel that focused only on takeout food – prescient, no? – and when I called Caffe Positano to place an order, the woman who took the call wanted to make sure I had meant to call Caffe Positano and not Positano.

Mandara eventually sold the Ocoee/Orlando restaurant and it remained Italian for a while. It is now the site of a Mexican restaurant.

But the Barbas still own Caffe Positano(s) and Pasquale, now 59, is still the chef. It was Roberto Barba who 20 years ago shared his recipe for limoncello with me. (I’ll return the favor and share it with you someday.)

I must say I was surprised when I called Caffe Positano and found Pasquale still there – he was 34 when he and his brother broke off to start the restaurant. It was fun to reminisce with him about the old days. But even more, it made me hungry to enjoy his food again.

Watch for an updated review of Caffe Positano.

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