So where are you from?
That question has stumped me for years. I’ve moved around so much in my life, that the idea of “home” doesn’t immediately bring to mind a place. Does it refer to where I was born? Perhaps it’s where I currently live? Or maybe it’s where I graduated from high school. I tend to go with the latter, but I still can’t be sure.
I recently had an interesting conversation with some old friends, as is usually the case, over a meal. Everyone had a clear idea of where “home” was, except for me. I graduated from high school in Winter Park, FL, where I have many fond memories, a good amount of those involving food. The more I thought about it, there was one place in particular that, to this day, whenever I get the chance to eat there, I’m home (and it’s not Olive Garden ya jerk!).
Enzo’s has been a part of my family for the better part of two decades. My parents used to take me and my sister to their pizzeria in the early 90′s for authentic Italian food when we were feeling too lazy to cook. Sadly that location closed years ago, but their main spot in the mostly unknown town of Longwood is still going strong, well over 30 years and counting.
Honestly, Longwood is the last place I’d expect to find seriously authentic Italian cuisine, but Enzo Perlini saw something that reminded him of home, so I can’t argue with the man. He managed to transform the small plot of lakefront property into his own teleportation machine, bringing its patrons straight to lush countryside around Rome.
Scenery can only take you part of the way, the food is what does the heavy lifting. Enzo knew that to truly give his diners a real Italian experience, he couldn’t skimp on freshness. This stands true from the antipasto to the dolce. At a glance, the menu doesn’t seem like anything special, but with Italian food, it’s not about creating something new, it’s about executing a classic perfectly and consistently.
All the favorites are here, blushing carpaccio di manzo with olive oil and freshly shaved parm, toasty country bread topped with ultra ripe tomatoes, basil and mozzarella. Here’s a pro tip, skip all that and let your waiter prepare you a plate from the antipasto bar, everything is at the peak of freshness, you’ll get a couple different cured meats, some pickled veggies, potato salad, marinated peppers, and olives. Make sure to ask for extra grilled eggplant, trust me on this one.
You like pasta? Yeah me too, how about the classic Roman dish, spaghetti carbonara with smokey bacon, sweet onions and romano cheese tossed in a hot skillet. Or my personal favorite, penne vodka, with a simple sauce made from marinated red pepper, tomato and you guessed it, tangy vodka. I’ve tried nearly everything on the menu and this…this one dish is the one I keep coming back to.
A close second is the pappardelle alla Farnese. The concise description hardly tells the story of this dish. I think there are only four or five ingredients in the whole dish not including the pasta, but it has a flavor that fills the mouth like nothing else. Thick sheets of homemade pappardelle act as the perfect vehicle for the spicy duo of arugula and black pepper. Pillowy shitake, softened with olive oil balance everything out on the tongue.
No Italian meal is complete without something sweet. I’m slightly ashamed to say that I’m not exactly sure of all the dessert options as I always order the same thing, tiramisu. I believe there’s a cheesecake, possibly a panna cotta and a flourless chocolate cake. All of that fades away when I get my first bite into that familiar creamy exterior, marked with spiked ladies fingers and a healthy dusting of cocoa powder, careful not to inhale!
Unfortunately the location may be a deal breaker for many of you as it can be a haul to get there. I assure you, if you make the journey, at least for an hour or two, you’ll forget all about the miles you traveled since your tongue and brain will be far away in the rolling hills of Italy.