1831 E. Edgewood Drive, Lakeland; 863-937-8940.
Open 5-9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 5-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
THE GIST: Classic Italian fare served in a relaxed, upscale setting.
CREDIT CARDS: All major cards accepted.
PRICE RANGE: $13.50 to $34.50
APPROPRIATE FOR KIDS: Yes (if they're well-behaved).
MUST TRY: Eggplant rollettini, fried eggplant, stuffed portobello, Tuscan chicken, veal piccata, creme brulee.
Glenn Scarpa's bold decision to step back into the restaurant business after a several-years' hiatus has proven most fortunate for those of us who pine for dining destinations where intimacy and class service are hallmarks on a par with the food.
Together with his wife, Ashley, Scarpa has resuscitated his father's old restaurant — Mario's — a brand that for close to 20 years catered regally to fans of first-rate Italian fare from a small, unadorned strip center on Lakeland's Edgewood Drive.
The restaurant, under different owners, lived on as Mario's for a number of years until May 2011, when it was sold and became La Porta Rossa, which floundered and closed in August of last year.
Glenn Scarpa honed his culinary skills in his father's restaurant. He'd left the business to start a construction company, but decided to jump back into the fire, so to speak, when the space that once housed his father's old place came available.
Newly named Scarpa's Italian, the restaurant opened in December with a polished, updated look, much of the work done by the owners. The space, smaller than its recent predecessor, is tastefully decorated in shades of gray and white, a color that carries through to the curtains and table linens, giving the intimate space a modern, upscale feel.
On a recent Sunday evening, business was a bit slack, but the void only added to the romance of the space, allowing the piped music — great, dinner-club standards from the likes of Dean Martin and Michael Buble — to be heard without competing with the babble of a full house.
Of course there's wine, but the suitable list overwhelmingly favors bottles, with very few offerings by the glass. No matter, an affordable, plummy Pinot Noir from California paired magically with an appetizer of fried eggplant, rolled and stuffed with creamy ricotta and bits of Italian sausage, made all the more regal with a mushroom cream sauce brightened with sherry and, I suspect, lemon.
The restaurant serves up several variations of this theme, but, really, why tinker with perfection?
Source : Timeout Polk