I wonder how many Central Floridians, or even College Parkers in particular, remember when the restaurant at 1710 Edgewater Drive was known as Joann’s Chili Bordello? I have a hard time wiping it from my memory because the dining room, which was the living room of an old home, had thick shag carpeting that was so greasy-filthy that I had to eat my entire lunch with my feet raised off the floor.
It’s been a long while since that restaurant of ill repast darkened the dining scene. It closed in the ‘90s, and five other eateries – all using the restored wood flooring, thank you very much – have called the old house home since then.
The most recent occupant, and longest lasting of the group, was Babbo, a casual wine bar and trattoria that was owned and operated by some of the original owners of Bravissimo on Shine Avenue. It never set its aim too high and therefore was usually on the mark. It was a comfortable, reliable place to get a bite to eat, if not to dine.
The new tenants want to change that, it would seem.
Kevin Fonzo of K Restaurant and Wine Bar a few blocks to the north, has taken over the restaurant and renamed it Nonna Trattoria ed Enoteca. This time he’s taken a partner with whom he has shared a house before: his brother Greg. A sister, Lori, also works at the restaurant as the bookkeeper.
The Brothers Fonzo have kept the Italian theme started by the Babbo owners but seem to be striving for a more ambitious menu from what I recall of Babbo’s bill of fare. Still, there isn’t anything on the regular dinner menu priced over $21, something that will surprise fans of K, where entrees range from $24 to $36.
Nonna’s menu lists its appetizers as primi rather than antipasti, and entrees are grouped under carne and pesche instead of secondi. The best dishes I sampled here were the starters, and primo they were.
I loved the frito misto ($10), which had calamari, white fish and shrimp in lightweight jackets of crisply fried breading, served with a tangy lemon aioli.
“Our family” meatballs ($6), parentheses provided by the Fonzos, were bocci ball-sized orbs of beef, veal and pork, culled from a recipe of the boys’ nonna, or grandmother, although Kevin says he’s tweaked the recipe to use three meats instead of two and uses more bread. The result is a firm but not dry meatball that was delicious in the piquant tomato sauce with melted mozzarella.
Lobster sambuca risotto ($12) was a deftly executed dish with nutty nuggets of rice and huge, succulent hunks of lobster meat. I would have been thoroughly satisfied with this as my entrée.
In fact it would have been better than the pan-fried breaded veal Milanese ($21) I had on my first visit. Veal Milanese is one of my favorite Italian dishes, mainly because I love the tangy taste of arugula against the milky flavor of tender veal. But the Nonna version was virtually arugula free. A sprinkling of parsley (!) appeared to have been used as a substitute, and the meat was topped with a green olive relish, which had no business being there at all. But a proper presentation wouldn’t have saved this one because the breading was soggy, too.
Roast pork tenderloin (418), on the other hand, was a delicious offering of tender medallions in a mushroom and balsamic sauce, accompanied by gorgonzola infused polenta.
Sauteed swordfish ($21) was a tad dry, but I liked the preparation, which includedroast eggplant, fennel, tomato and artichokes, sauteed with white wine and olive oil.
I also tried the fiocchi ($14) from the list of pastas. This dish would not have satisfied as a stand-alone entrée, but the fontina cheese, and prosciutto tossed with the white beans and escarole made for a tasty side dish.
I enjoyed the desserts I tried. The bread pudding ($7) was fashioned out of panettone, the sweet bread of Milan traditionally served at Christmas. And torta Nonna ($6) was a dense sponge cake with almonds and apricot jam.
The house setting is quite small. The inside dining areas can be cramped and noisy. Most people seem to prefer dining on the porch that wraps around the front and part of the side of the house. (Maybe they remember the shag carpeting inside, too.) Kevin Fonzo says more renovations are to come.
In the meantime, he and Greg are cooking in the small kitchen, Kevin as the chef de cuisine and his brother as the sous chef. It’s a tight area for two chefs, perhaps tighter for siblings. But Kevin says that if there are any fights, “Mom is just a phone call away.”
Nonna Trattoria ed Enoteca is at 1710 Edgewater Drive, Orlando. It is open for lunch Tuesday-Friday and dinner Tuesday-Saturday. This link will take you to Nonn’a Web site. The phone number is 407-649-9770.