The restaurant at 3818 Edgewater Drive was famously transformed in 2015 when the cast and crew of Food Network’s “Restaurant: Impossible” “ambushed” owner Denny Tornatore to analyze and made the place over. Among the changes: switching the name from Caffe Positano to Tornatore’s Pizzeria.
It’s never stopped evolving.
Over the past few years, Tornatore brought on Jason Wolfe to elevate the quality of the Italian cuisine, adding Ristorante to the name. And the space next door to the restaurant was made into a market, selling specialty food items and prepared meals to go.
Most recently it underwent a renovation that has transformed the intimate dining room into a more stylishly romantic space. It’s now known as Tornatore’s Ristorante and Italian Market, and if the Food Network people were to return to College Park unexpectedly, I don’t think they’d have a thing to complain about.
My dinner guest and I started with one of Tornatore’s signature charcuterie boards, featuring an array of cured meats, cheeses and spreads. We nibbled while we awaited our first courses.
I chose the fritto misto, delicately breaded shrimp, squid, red peppers, fennel and lemon, which offered a surprising burst of sweet and tart.
My companion had the burrata and focaccia, a plump piece of soft cheese drizzled with pesto and served on a platform of charred tomato along side a cake-sized piece of fresh focaccia bread.
For my entree I had the pork belly carbonara, a classically executed dish of bucatini tossed in egg and parmesan with chewy bits of cured pork cheeks, all topped by a huge square of impossibly tender and bacon-y pork belly. Delicious.
My guest had the Amatriciana, another classic dish with a sauce of tomatoes, onions, pecorino cheese, and chili flakes to give it a little kick. It also had the pork cheek guanciale and also was tossed with bucatini.
I had initially requested a dish with pappardelle, but Tornatore’s only features house-made pasta, so when it runs out, it runs out. And it had run out. Next time I’ll plan to get there earlier in the evening.
We also sampled an interesting side dish of roasted Brussels sprouts that were tossed with peppery honey and sliced strawberries. I never would have imagined pairing Brussels sprouts with strawberries but it worked nicely.
Although Pizzeria is no longer featured prominently in the restaurant’s name, pizza is still very much a forte here. We enjoyed the Joe Gibb’s Pie, which had pepperoni and sausage with mushrooms, green peppers and onions with a soupçon of sauce on a not-too-thin chewy crust. I don’t know who Joe Gibbs is but he makes a good pie.
For dessert – another part of Tornatore’s game that was considerably upped a few years ago – there was fresh lemony cake.
The renovated dining room is has walls of rich royal blues, a black tin ceiling and large photographs of Sicily, from whence Denny Tornatore comes, and College Park. Lighting is low and moody, and music plays at a level conducive to conversation. There is also exceptionally comfortable outdoor seating.
Service was first rate; prompt and efficient.
The quality of Tornatore’s food has never been a question. But now with the improved surroundings, it has become a more enjoyable and elevated dining experience.