First impression: Angelo Elia made a name for himself at the very expensive Casa D'Angelo in Fort Lauderdale. Frankly, his original spot is a little too clubby for my tastes. But at D'Angelo Pizza Wine Bar Tapas, which opened in March 2010, the chef gets to show off his skills in a much-more-casual setting and at prices that don't have to break the bank. While the food isn't as adventurous as at his other restaurants, he uses all the same top-quality ingredients. Anyone who lives in the neighborhood ought to be glad it's so close. D'Angelo has been so successful that a second location is set to open at the end of October in Weston.
Ambience: Only the brighter-than-expected lighting calls to mind the pizza parlors of my childhood. The long, skinny, 75-seat dining room is handsomely done in beige and brown. At one end of the room is the wood-burning oven. At the other end is a comfortable bar and a door to the 30-seat patio that's popular any time of year. It's a busy, noisy place — made all the more hectic by sports-driven TV.
Tapas: Buffalo mozzarella with Parma prosciutto ($12) delivers the cool, salty blast we wanted. Roasted sweet Italian sausage is served with escarole and beans along with rapini cooked simply in garlic and oil ($11). Veal and pecorino cheese meatballs ($10) have lots of flavor, and I love their light texture from being braised in tomato sauce. Eggplant parmesan with Buffalo mozzarella ($9) is heavy on cheese and light on eggplant, but good in an old-fashioned, red sauce kind of way. Crispy fontina polenta with Parm-Reg and roasted wild mushrooms ($10) is delicious. If you've dined at Casa D'Angelo, this will remind you of an accompaniment to one of his Tuscan-style meat dishes.
Pizza and calzone: If you measure pizza by its crust, this passes all my tests. Thin. Crisp. Just a bit chewy. Elia hired a pizzamaker from Naples in order to get it right. Capricciosa ($14) — artichokes, olives, mozzarella, mushrooms and tomato — shows perfect restraint by not overdoing any of the toppings. But the surprise is Sicilana ($13) — Italian tuna, red onion, oregano and capers. Much has been said about the superior qualities of imported canned Italian tuna, and its qualities are on perfect display here. We order just one calzone. It's called Cremoso with burrata, prosciutto and mushrooms ($15). I'm not a fan of calzone, and this cheesy carb pocket only reinforces that prejudice.
Frittata: Be sure to order one of three wood-oven-baked frittatas. Eggs with potatoes, spinach and mozzarella ($9) has rarely tasted this good. It comes piping hot in a round baking dish.
Sweet! Wouldn't you know it? The best dessert is the generous serving of homemade pistachio gelato ($6), dotted with nuts and as creamy as I remember eating in Italy. Tiramisu ($6) is also surprisingly good. As are mini cannoli ($6). Less successful is Italian-style cheesecake ($6), in which it's hard to discern any orange flavor.
Service: Exceptional. Each of the more than 80 menu items is numbered. You have to be impressed with a waitress who can tell you all about a dish simply by stating the number.
Liquid assets: Four beers, including Peroni and Stella Artois, are available on draft. There are also plenty of moderately priced wine choices.
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D'Angelo Pizza Wine Bar Tapas
4215 N. Federal Highway, Oakland Park
Hours: Lunch and dinner daily
Reservations: Only for parties of five or more
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Noisy
Outside smoking: No
For kids: Highchairs
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Complimentary valetCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun