From Rags to Ragus

Tonino Doino grew up in Italy, quite poor, yet as the story goes, he would become the first person to resign from the waitstaff of Bice in New York City. The reason that no waiter before him had ever considered quitting is probably because each was earning roughly $100,000 per year for carrying around plates of food. It would not be an exaggeration to say some people thought Tonino was a bit crazy, even more so when they heard he had moved to Florida and taken a low-paying cook's job in Coral Gables. After he plunked down his savings to open a restaurant in a run-down hotel on some crack-infested South Beach street, they probably figured he had lost his marbles completely. This was back in 1993. The restaurant was Sport Café.

Tonino sent for his family: brothers Paolo, Roberto, and Luciano; their father Antonio; and Rosinella, the mother for whom their next successful venture, the charming Lincoln Road trattoria, was named. That opened in March 1997, followed one year later by the second Rosinella Italian Trattoria, this one situated on South Miami Avenue. Unlike the sister locations, the downtown Rosinella is busiest at lunchtime, packed with lucky business people who are able to get tables. Seems lately that nighttime seating is getting harder to come by as well, and with good reason: The fare is similar to what you'd find in a small, unassuming restaurant on some Italian side street, certainly more so than anywhere in downtown Miami, and maybe even anyplace on the Beach.

The brothers manage the various locations (during lunch downtown you're most likely to see Roberto and Luciano, who splits his time at both Rosinellas) while the parents work at the Lincoln Road spot. Antonio is the daytime bartender there, and Rosinella shows up in the kitchen every morning to help prepare some of the homemade specialties, like gnocchi, ravioli, and lasagna. I especially love this last dish, a ricottaless version with Béchamel sauce instead between the layers of fresh pasta, ground veal and beef, mozzarella cheese, and tomato sauce ($8.50).


Rosinella Italian Trattoria

1040 S Miami Ave; 305-372-5756. (Also located at 525 Lincoln Rd, Miami Beach; 305-672-8777.)

Open for lunch and dinner seven days, Sunday through Thursday 11:30 a.m. till 11:00 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11:30 a.m. to midnight.

The dishes made by hired hands are noteworthy too, as much for what's not in them as what is. What's not in the penne Gorgonzola ($8.95), for instance, is an overpowering sauce drowning the noodles, or any extraneous ingredients, or even chopped parsley (amen). Instead the firm tubes of penne are tossed with just enough creamy sauce to coat them, so you can taste only pasta and the full, fat flavor of the Gorgonzola. Pizzas also please, with thin crust, light sauce, and nontrendy toppings ($6.95-$8.95).

Much of the regular menu is cross-referenced to a list of specials, so appetizers, salads, soups, pastas, and main courses change daily. On one occasion the spaghetti del giorno featured more than a dozen delicate veal and beef polpette (meatballs), each no larger than one inch in diameter ($10.95). This petiteness of size may surprise some but in fact that's how they're made throughout most of southern Italy. Meat, chicken, and fish entrées are as straightforwardly simple as the pastas: cooked to order, consistently tasty, and with a generous helping of carrots, broccoli florets, and roasted potatoes.

Service is personable and alert, and prices are good, too. Like all "affordable" Italian restaurants, though, by the time you have a soup, salad, or appetizer before your meal, bottled water with it, and coffee and dessert afterward (plus wine), the meaning of the word affordable becomes fuzzier, especially when applied to lunch, which uses the same menu as dinner. Then again upscale Italian restaurants charge much more for cuisine that might be more elaborate, but can be no fresher and better prepared than the fare at Rosinella's.


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