If you're unfamiliar with polpettone, you won't be after visiting Fornaro in Coconut Grove. At this month-old restaurant, the Italian meatloaf-like dish reigns supreme. You can get polpettone on top of your pizza or inside a panini, and of course you can order it as a main dish ($14.90). To make it, Brazilian chef Marcus de Mello shapes Italian mozzarella cheese and freshly ground filet mignon into a disk that he breads and fries. The resulting crisp mound of oozing cheese and meat is placed on a bed of homemade tomato sauce and Parmesan cheese. It's not for the calorie-conscious.
"My goal is to have young children ask their parents to take them out for polpettone. Then I will know I’ve been successful,” owner
Lorenzo Ramon says. The restaurateur owned five restaurants in his native Brazil before moving to Miami with his family. Though this is Ramon's first time running an Italian restaurant and pizzeria, he says the food of Italy is practically universal and has always been his passion.
Fornaro's relaxed atmosphere and affordable prices (entrées cost $11 to $15) are aligned with Ramone's vision to make this eatery a neighborhood spot. However, if this location does well, he says he'd like to open outposts in West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale. New Times was recently invited to try some of chef de Mello's cooking, and apart from the aforementioned polpettone, here are some highlights.
The words "Italian," "sausage," and "bread" are just meant to go together. For proof, you need not look further than the Italian sausage bread starter ($9.95). It's essentially beef-and-pork sausage and cheese wrapped in pizza dough drizzled with olive oil and baked in the oven. If you're thinking, What could be bad about that?, you're right —- nothing —- it's great.
Ramon says he tried 12 squid purveyors before settling on one from California. The effort paid off, because the lightly fried calamari are impeccably fresh.
On the corner of SW 27th Avenue (around the way from Coral Bagels) in Coconut Grove, Fornaro prides itself on its ten-inch individual-size pizzas made with fresh tomato sauce. Ramon says their ultra-thin, crisp crusts help distinguish them. Pies here are baked in a wood-burning oven and finished off in a gas stove. Especially delectable is the topping combination of artichokes and mushrooms with a hint of truffle oil ($14.90).
Pastas are available too, including purse-shaped fiocchi stuffed with pear and Gorgonzola ($14.90). It's a classic combination that's rich, and sometimes a little decadence goes a long way.
Fig cake with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce ($7.80) isn't a dessert seen on many Miami menus. It's a nice, light option after a somewhat heavy meal.
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When Farinelli 1937 by Maurizio Farinelli of Strada in the Grove and Michael Schwartz's Harry's Pizzeria open, the area will be home to a trifecta of gourmet pie places. And who knows, this neighborhood might even become Miami's pizza hub. Here's to a saucier Coconut Grove.