Enzo’s still has that special touch...
In 1979, Enzo Perlini introduced Central Florida to the food of his native Roma, a style known for richness, seafood, exquisite use of porcini mushrooms, pasta dishes such as spaghetti alla carbonara and Greek influences.
He found a home on Lake Fairy in Longwood. Back then, when Seminole County was just beginning to feel the rumble of growth and the location was a gamble. In the spirit of "if you build it, they will come," Perlini knew the lakefront home, which reminded him of a small Italian villa, was the right spot for the kind of restaurant he envisioned.
"He bought the house from an elderly couple who built it in 1955," says Ross, who remained Perlini's business partner after their divorce. "The layout of the house allowed us to grow over the years without losing that feel that you have stepped inside someone's home. That was always important to us."
Enzo died in 2006 after an extended battle with leukemia, but his vision remains - thanks in part to the almost seamless transition with Ross and chef Charles Beriault, who worked with Perlini.
Today, first-timers are often surprised at the surroundings as they approach the restaurant on U.S. Highway 17-92. A mish-mash of businesses surround the long stucco wall that separates Enzo's from the congestion. Once you pass the entry, the setting is only a bit statelier. The transformation occurs once inside. To the left the elegant wood bar beckons. A few steps beyond that, the Terraza room absorbs the natural light before sunset and then takes a romantic turn as the exterior gardens and walkways are illuminated. The main dining room can be boisterous on weekends, as if you've walked into a grand party. You can easily imagine the former living room and dining areas and get a taste of the future Perlini saw three decades ago.
From the get-go Enzo's had its signatures: Bucatini alla Enzo ($23.75), with herbs, peas, prosciutto, mushroom and Parmesan; a lavish antipasto bar on view for diners ($13.95 per person) and grilled lamb to die for ($36.75).
The antipasto offerings change seasonally, and your server will fill your plate after asking your preferences: Seafood (shrimp, mussels, calamari), roasted vegetables (artichokes, bell peppers, hearts of palm), olives and an assortment of thin-sliced cured meats.
On one of my visits the seafood special was a grilled sea bass ($33). Tender and buttery, the fish gave way effortlessly when flaked with a fork. The gamberoni alla griglia ($29.50) was a lovely dish of large, sautéed shrimp surrounding a dome of smoked mozzarella risotto with a sweet pepper and garlic vinaigrette. The classic Roman dish of spaghetti alla carbona is made without cream, the way it was ment to be. The simplicity and balance of the ingredients make it an elegant addition.
The food is still first-rate, the service polished and the setting wonderful. Far from Orlando's Sand Lake Road Restaurant Row, Enzo's independently hits its mark consistently and stands out as a true local gem.
1130 South Hwy. 17-92 • Longwood, Florida 32750 • Reservations, call 407.834.9872 • Fax 407.834.66747