BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse

**** (4 stars)

This BJ’s has the nicest interior decor of any BJ’s I’ve been to. As with all of them it has a very extensive menu, and a full page devoted to a very clearly described array of beers.

We took a large (16 people) group here after playing the Escape game nearby, and our servers did an amazing job of dealing with so many people.

I really liked the queso dip appetizer, which was more about chili than cheese. The appetizer combo was less exciting, and I particularly disliked the egg rolls and the spinach dip.

My entree, the ahi tuna salad, was delicious, with tender, rare slices of ahi arranged around a nicely tossed pile of greens with just the right amount of tangy dressing, and a nice variety of textures.

In short, this is a great place for large groups or small parties, for groups who all want something different to eat, and for beer lovers. One of the better choices on I-Drive, for sure.

BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse
8103 International Dr
Orlando, FL 32819
(321) 732-8190
http://www.yelp.com/biz/bjs-restaurant-and-brewhouse-orlando-4

Mellow Mushroom

**** (4 stars)

This is a really nicely decorated Mellow Mushroom, with a music theme that is well executed throughout. Because it’s near the theme parks, it attracts a larger crowd of newbies, and a lot of small rather rambunctious kids, so it has a different atmosphere than other Mellow Mushrooms.

The pizzas are still great, and there are lots of creative offerings. As at other Mellow Mushrooms, you can build your own salad or pizza from scratch, however because the individual ingredients are quite expensive, you can quickly end up with a twenty or thirty dollar production.

I took the opportunity to try the new veggie burger, and I must say it was one of the better veggie burgers in town, with a nice sear on the mostly bean-based patty.

Service was a bit inexperienced, but the location is new, and I’m sure it will work itself out. Management seemed on top of things.

Mellow Mushroom
10725 International Dr
Orlando, FL 32821
(407) 351-9670
http://www.yelp.com/biz/mellow-mushroom-orlando-2

Quartino

**** (4 stars)

There is an overabundance of Italian restaurants in Chicago, and many have little to recommend them. Quartino is different, though, in that it takes a tapas approach to Italian food, emphasizing small plates of antipasti.

The best way to experience this is through their Salumeria Tasting, which lets you choose seven items to your taste, including veggies, cheeses and meat, all accompanied by several additional sides.

Everything I tried was tasty and delicious, and it was a good way to experience a broad range of offerings.

Of course they also offer pizza, other entrees, and an extensive dessert list, and they brag that they have wine that is cheaper than water.

My server was very friendly, and I enjoyed a relaxed meal in one of their spacious dining rooms. There is also a large outside dining area.

Quartino
626 N State St
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 698-5000
http://www.yelp.com/biz/quartino-chicago

Caprino’s Italian

**** (4 stars)

Caprino’s is a much better restaurant than anything that has previously occupied this space. Run by Chef Stefano, who previously had the restaurant at the entrance to Summerport, and also has Stefano’s Grill in Dr Phillip’s Marketplace, Caprino’s strikes a balance between neighborhood Italian restaurant and sports bar.

The space is still the amalgam of Rialto’s ornate fine dining restaurant wrapped around a somewhat incongruous bar dotted with big screen TVs, but this serves the menu well, with its emphasis on combining traditional Italian dishes with sports bar food.

Whether your party wants wings, hoagies, pasta or pizza, there is likely something for everyone. And at the higher end, the beef is reportedly all prime; it and the seafood are butchered on site.

Our server was friendly and well-informed, and the service in general seemed quite polished for a restaurant open less than two months. On a moderately busy Friday night the kitchen was having trouble keeping up, which caused some service issues, but presumably these will be corrected.

The pizza is thin crust and has an authentic Naples taste to it. We tried two specials: the osso buco was heavily over-salted, but the lobster ravioli was well-prepared. Caesar salad is conventional and includes house made croutons.

Desserts are the same offerings as at Stefano’s Grill. The tira misu was generous.

Wine by the glass selections are somewhat limited, but there is a nice list of 29 bottles for $29 each, and also extensive cocktail offerings.

Chef Stefano was circulating throughout the dining room on the night we were there, and his hands on approach has certainly improved the experience at this neighborhood restaurant. So far it’s paying off with increased patronage.

Caprino’s Italian
7782 Winter Garden Vineland Rd
Ste 140
Windermere, FL 34786
(407) 500-3663
http://www.yelp.com/biz/caprinos-italian-windermere

Bongiorno’s Italian Deli & Pizzeria

**** (4 stars)

This homey little counter service Italian place off the lobby of River View Plaza is a great spot for lunch or dinner.

The price for a ten inch pizza is great, and it has a very authentic crust such as you’d get in Napoli.

You can get any kind of pasta with any kind of sauce, but I haven’t yet found a combination that excites me, although the serving size is large enough for two or more.

I do like the Caesar salad, which isn’t tossed, but has a tasty dressing.

And the very best item is the garlic bread, a generous serving with lots of garlic butter, fixed in the pizza oven so the edges have a slight char.

There’s a pleasant outside patio where you can enjoy the view of the Trump tower–if you look straight up.

Bongiorno’s Italian Deli & Pizzeria
405 N Wabash Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 755-1255
http://www.yelp.com/biz/bongiornos-italian-deli-and-pizzeria-chicago

Blaze Fast-Fire’d Pizza

**** (4 stars)

This is a great concept for pizza.

It’s always bugged me that pizza places charge some ridiculous amount for each ingredient when you roll your own. Well not at Blaze. Here you can get anything you like, in any combination, for one reasonable price. Assembly is quick and easy, and the baking process is equally quick, so it’s as fast as fast food, but completely custom, and with much better ingredients.

Service was friendly and efficient, and they took extra care to get my crust crispy, the way I like it, and to melt the ricotta cheese I selected.

It’s great that there’s finally an excellent pizza place in Evanston!

Blaze Fast-Fire’d Pizza
4999 Old Orchard Center
Ste F9
Skokie, IL 60077
(847) 568-1649
http://www.yelp.com/biz/blaze-fast-fired-pizza-skokie

Pizzeria Uno Chicago Bar & Grill

*** (3 stars)

I’m not sure whether the drift of the name is the result of the chain’s deemphasis on pizza, but the menu has certainly broadened here, and it seems more like a sports bar than anything resembling an Italian restaurant.

Their new pick two emphasis makes it a good choice for lunch, and some of the options aren’t as caloric as most of the food.

The decor of this location is open and lively, but the volume remains reasonable even when they are busy.

Service was friendly and efficient.

Pizzeria Uno Chicago Bar & Grill
55 W Church St
Orlando, FL 32801
(407) 839-1800
http://www.yelp.com/biz/pizzeria-uno-chicago-bar-and-grill-orlando-2

Melange

**** (4 stars)

I was very impressed by this creative concept. At first it does look like a CiCi’s pizza, with its salad and pizza buffet.

But the real treat is at the back, where you can get a sandwich, panini, pizza or ice cream with virtually any combination of ingredients you can imagine, made to order. For sandwiches alone, with about a dozen breads, a dozen meats, and a dozen toppings, there are a lot of possibilities.

You can order at the counter, but it’s fun to use the two touchscreens to assemble exactly what you want. Then it’s promptly made and delivered to your table. I selected rye bread, ham, turkey, swiss, fat free mayo and banana peppers. The sandwich turned out great, and all the ingredients were fresh and delicious. It was accompanied by a very tasty and zesty potato salad.

This is a great place for families, because there’s something for everyone, but it’s also one of the better places in town to get a sandwich, and I’d actually rate it above any of the sub shops and delis in the area. In fact, the only thing I didn’t like about it is the bright fluorescent lighting.

And at $7.99 for lunch, it’s hard to imagine a better deal.

Melange
8261 S John Young Pkwy
Orlando, FL 32819
(407) 704-3821
http://www.yelp.com/biz/melange-orlando

Tartini Pizzeria & Spaghetteria

**** (4 stars)

Stylish on both exterior and interior, Tartini serves up authentic Naples style pizza. The thin crust is the perfect combination of crisp and chewy, and can be slightly charred around the edge if you request. There’s an almost infinite combination of toppings available, including arugula, pesto sauce, and ricotta cheese for something different from the typical American pizza.

Even the bargain priced side salad is a generous serving, and there are some excellent pasta dishes.

A brief wine list offers an interesting three glass tasting option, and there are some intriguing beers.

Service is friendly and helpful.

Tartini Pizzeria & Spaghetteria
6327 S Orange Ave
Orlando, FL 32809
(407) 601-2400
http://www.yelp.com/biz/tartini-pizzeria-and-spaghetteria-orlando

Piazza Rialto Italian Restaurant

Five cheese platter

Interior

**** (4 stars)

Rialto has now become the restaurant this neighborhood needs. After a rocky first year, new management and chef have elevated this to an outstanding experience. 

This was always a beautiful space, far nicer than one expects in a small shopping center. Its versatile design lends itself to group meals, family outings, after work time at the bar, pleasant outdoor dining, and romantic dinners for two–quite an accomplishment all in one space.

But now the food and service live up to the environment. New additions such as a cheese platter of mostly French cheeses and a chocolate creme brulee dessert add an international flair, and there are also American offerings such as a buffalo chicken flatbread. But the focus is still on Italian food, with a variety of pastas and classic Italian entrees. The freshly baked bread was top notch, and we particularly enjoyed the antipasto salad, a creative combination of greens, prosciutto and olives.

The biggest improvement is the service. Our waiter, Anthony, was obviously very concerned that we have a great time, and we could see that to be the case with other tables and servers as well. The hands-on approach by management, who visited our table, is also a dramatic change. Clearly everyone is now onboard to turn this into a great restaurant, and we will happily return.

It’s nice to finally have a great Italian restaurant in our neighborhood.

Piazza Rialto Italian Restaurant
7782 Winter Garden Vineland Rd
Windermere, FL 34786
(855) 474-2586
http://www.yelp.com/biz/piazza-rialto-italian-restaurant-windermere-2