'Il miglior Italiano in Gainesville'
Whenever I know that people are travelling from out of town to visit me, the first thing I think of is where I'm going to take them out to eat that will truly embody the best dining in Gainesville because, honestly, visitor activities primarily revolve around going out to eat. So last week, it was a weekend trip for my vegetarian mom and her Italian boyfriend. So I had to cram some serious eats in. I made a mental list of some of my favorites and some places I've been dying to go. Brunch is always an essential, but there has to also be at least one dinner.
My list included the best Thai in Gainesville, Bangkok Square, and one of my favorite local brunch spots, but I knew that a bit nicer of a dining experience was required. Taking my mom's dietary restrictions and her boyfriend's Italian background into consideration, it didn't take long to land on Amelia's "Cucina Casalinga" for what I've heard is one of the best — if not the very best — Italian dining experiences in town, which I have been dying to try. After talking to the GLOB's Mike Sanford about this, he put a bug in Amelia's Chef Andy Fass's ear that I would be bringing my mom there to dine on Saturday.
Dining at Amelia's is a high-commodity experience, so I planned accordingly. On arrival, I was pleased with a dimly-lit, cozy Italian joint separated into what seemed like a few rooms of tables, perhaps to create an intimate European-like atmosphere with Italianesque paintings donning the walls. A myriad of other couples, families, and one or two larger dining groups kept us company at the tightly-packed tables, but when you're having this much fun, it's hard to notice anyone else!
The specials menu for the night was very intriguing, so much so that we had two appetizers -- both the NY Crostini appetizer on the specials list and the regularly-listed Calamari appetizer, our first selections of the night. Both were much tastier than expected: The crostinis lightly sprinkled with paprika were swimming in a sea of creamy artichoke-laden white sauce for a very pleasing medley of flavors. The calamari, a staple for my mom's boyfriend, exceeded his high standards for the dish; he explained that "you can really taste the tomatoes in the marinara, that is important; it's so fresh." I loved how the calamari was lightly breaded and well prepared, as opposed to the overly fried chunks of squid I have had the displeasure of eating elsewhere.
After very tasty house and Caesar salads and a bread basket, herbed bread slices so satisfyingly dipped in olive oil, everyone was very pleased with their entrees. My mom's large serving of(linguine with white clam sauce) (image at top) had a generous helping of clams and a very buttery, yet not overly heavy, white sauce. Her boyfriend's Scaloppine Sorrentino (veal scaloppine topped with eggplant, prosciutto, basil, and mozzarella) was extremely tender, layers of veal, eggplant, and prosciutto provided a savory richness for the freshness of the basil and mozzarella topping the stack. There was not a bite left on the plate.
The real winner of the night was my friend, Thomas's, Surf and TurfSpecial, which included a 13-oz filet of rare and juicy NY Strip steak — an item not typically on the menu but prepared wonderfully — with jumbo shrimp and red bliss potatoes. The star of the dish was the blue cheese-based garlic sauce that I could have dredged just about any food into and been happy. I asked to have the salmon special but with grouper instead (right), and I think my dish is the only one that fell somewhat flat. The tomato and mushroom-laden sauce was very flavorful and was nicely accompanied by sautéed spinach, but the grouper was overcooked. I spent most of the night sampling everyone else's plates.
Although quite full, we had to try out a favorite dessert, the cannoli. I feel that some classic dishes such as this are a pretty good indication of the authenticity of a place. Our cannoli had lemony cream filling and the shell was pre-prepared, not the filling. But as my mom cleverly quoted, "Take the cannoli and leave the gun!" Brownie points to whomever can guess the movie.
Not only was the majority of the food absolutely spectacular such that each bite of food was clearly very fresh and well-prepared, but the company and atmosphere created a wonderful time had by all. I would certainly like to go back, but the prices do not make for an everyday-type outing. And next time, perhaps I will skip the fish.
The Pluses and Minuses of Amelia's:
Amelia's + indicators: Nice atmosphere, great for a date, price indicates value, exceptional traditional Italian plates, fresh ingredients, friendly servers, accommodating chef
Amelia's - indicators: Gets very busy, tables at close quarters, sad about my fish!