It was raining cats and dogs when we arrived, but we found a front row parking spot and someone was waiting for us, holding the door. A nice and welcoming touch. There were not many other tables taken, just a few, but then again, it was pouring out. Later on as the rain subsided more diners came. No matter, we were promptly greeted, seated and provided with menus. We had a coupon for a free bottle of Chianti with our meal, and it was quickly produced. We were in the restaurant only a few minutes when the chef/owner, Ian, stopped by to chat. Being the food nerd I am, I had lots of questions and he was gracious with his time, several times, during the course of our meal.
Chianti open and poured, we ordered appetizers. But while we were waiting for them, we were given an order of Garlic Knots, gratis. It's just what they do, how nice. And.... Wow! They were right up there with the best garlic knots I've ever had. They were nice and yeasty, warm, sprinkled with parmesan and parsley and with a nice moderate garlic flavor. Tommy is not a big garlic fan, and we had some elsewhere that he didn't like. These he loved since the garlic was not overpowering. I'd have to agree, they were excellent.
For our first appetizer we had the Mozarella Fritta. This was whole milk mozzarella that was lightly battered/breaded and fried. It was served with the house (home-made) marinara sauce, and they were dusted with parmesan and parsley. This was a home run. So many so-called "Italian" restaurants serve your "Sam's Club" variety of mozzarella sticks as an appetizer. But these were truly outstanding, among the two best I've ever had (the other was recently at Marco Dino's another Sanford Italian place). The mozzarella was smooth and creamy and ooey-gooey, the crust of the batter gave a nice texture and contrast to the creamy chesse. And the marinara? It was very good and not overly sweet, just a nice, pleasant marinara.
For our other appetizer we ordered a small Pepperoni Pizza--I wanted to see what they could produce from their brick oven. Again, I was not disappointed. It came out nice and hot and was filled with cheese and a big cheese flavor. Wow, I will be back just for pizza. Chef Ian later told us that they have a daily lunch special with a small pizza and a drink for somewhere around $7, If I remember correctly. Gonna bring my "work gang" here sometime soon with a deal like that. But back to the pizza--it was wonderful, lots of big cheese flavor, nice sharp pepperonie, and a nice thin crust--cooked perfectly. Best of all, we have leftovers so will have some again later today.
For his main course, Tommy chose the Chicken Francese--lightly battered and fried chicken medallions served over linguini and smothered with a lemon butter sauce. First a word about the sauce--the lemon was very light which was a good thing. In some restaurants, the lemon overpowers the sauce. Here the touch was light, but there was some lemon on the plate if you wanted more. I had quite a good taste of the sauce and loved its buttery goodness with just that hint of lemon. And the chicken--well, it was absolutely tender and delicious. And the linguini was prepared to perfection, just al dente. It was a very good dish. Every bite was a wonderful reward for the mouth.
For my main course, I had the Zita ala Vodka--al dente rigatoni that was sauteed in SKY vodka sauce and topped with some pancetta and more cheese. It was wonderful, piping hot and full of good hearty italian flavor. The vodka sauce was nice and light, not overly creamed with milk. The pancetta was finely julienned. The baking melded all the flavors together. I love this dish and the portion was more than ample--I have a nice sized portion leftover for later today.
Our experience at Chianti's was top notch. The food and flavors were great. The atmosphere is more modern and open and pizza joint-ish, but the food that we had was right up there with the best Italian food I've had. With the closing or ownership change of Caffe Positano, I may have a new favorite Italian Restaurant--or maybe two. Between Chianti's and Marco Dino's, both in Sanford, it's a hard decision. But I know for sure I'll be back to Chianti's. The restaurant business is hard, but the food and experience here was top notch and it was a good value with very reasonable prices. I suggest you give Chianti's a try and let me know what you think. Ask for Ian, and tell him that the Lake Mary Food Critic sent you! Enjoy!