Last October, I mentioned in this space, Rossi’s restaurant in Elfers, Florida, a community on State Road 54, north of Tarpon Springs. I suggested that they were home to some of the best pizza in the area and, also, had fine Italian food, generally. Readers of my pieces here are aware that I like food and we enjoy eating out, although Joan is one really fine cook. In any event, out granddaughter Jessica had her 21st birthday last May and, since she is usually hungry and now lives in Holiday, near Elfers, we invited her and a friend to Rossi’s for dinner.
Rossi’s is located on State Road 54, between the Suncoast Parkway and U.S, 19, the latter a major north-south thoroughfare along the west coast of Florida. It is in a strip shopping center and by 5:00 or 5:30 P.M. it is usually crowded, mostly with seniors eating early. While they have an active pizza operation, both in house and carryout, we were there for the food. Alas, when we arrived, instead of the menu board listing unusual and unique taste treats, there was a notice that there had been trouble in the kitchen and that only salads and pizza were available.
Jessica is employed by a major pizza chain and has her hands in pizza dough all day long, so we knew she would be anticipating her favorite at Rossi’s, Chicken Angelo, a chicken dish that celebrates the joining of tender chicken breast morsels,, dipped in egg, pan seared, then topped with ham, tomatoes and mozzarella, The dish is then baked and the sauce is a white wine lemon and butter reduction.
For tonight, however, it was pizza and a tasty salad after celebrating her birthday with a mug of beer. We promised her that we would make it up to her and, indeed, we did last evening.
As you enter the restaurant, at the western end of a strip mall, you come upon the pizza ovens, “to-go” carry-out counter and cash register. On the wall is a board with a number of special dishes, all interesting and none on the regular menu. Tonight the recommended dishes were a grouper filet adorned with black and green olives, sun dried tomatoes and garlic. A second “special” involved veal, mushrooms, and several kinds of cheese, the ever-present garlic and a number of spices.
Joan, Jessica and I met at the restaurant shortly ahead of Jessica’s friend, Jon, so we decided to have a nibble before he arrived from work. I requested an order of cheese-garlic bread to accompany my glass of Chianti and Jessica’s Sam Adams. (Jessica was essentially raised by Joan and me; I take pride in her ordering quality beer.) The loaf of crisp bread had been sliced lengthwise, was dripping with olive oil and loaded with garlic and cheese. Jon was lucky to have one or two remaining pieces when he arrived ten minutes later!
Joan and Jessica started off with a substantial individual salad, coated with a sweet-spicy Italian dressing. Jon and I ordered cups of soup, Cream of Spinach, hot, very rich and chock full of greens. To tell the truth, after the garlic-cheese bread, the soup and the Chianti, I was ready for coffee and the check. But we pushed on.
Joan and Jon ordered veal Marsala, an abundance of veal tornadoes and mushrooms presented in dark brown gravy. The one criticism Joan and Jon offered, one that didn’t cause any hesitation in devouring the dish, was that the marsala wine sauce could have been simmered longer to allow more of the alcohol to “burn off”. All entrees at Rossi’s come with various pasta “sides”; we all chose baked ziti, served in a baking dish and very generous in quantity.
Jessica ordered her Chicken Angelo, no surprise there, while I decided on Chicken Romana. This entrée was full of chicken “cutlets”, mushrooms, smoky ham, many artichoke hearts, the ubiquitous garlic and assorted spices. (I recognized Rosemary), all in a rich brown gravy. I barely had room for a second glass of Chianti!
By the time all plates were empty and all sauces sopped up in bread and devoured, no one had the slightest inclination for dessert. That’s a shame, too, as the rum cake and tiramisu are both really excellent.
This morning, I made a serious error in judgment. I stepped on the scale. It probably was broken, but for the next several days, salad and diet stuff is in order.
If one is looking for unusually fine Italian food north of Tampa, he or she will be more than pleased with Rossi’s.