Published on January 31st, 2010 | by Kevin Barron1
Review: Stefano’s Italian Restaurant
(Florence, SC) After a serious bout with cabin fever on Saturday, my family and I hit the road this afternoon to do some house hunting and (as always) find something good to eat. Temps remained frigid, but the GPS didn’t fail and we persevered finding a couple of nice Open House events. Food remained on the mind throughout as breakfast was long since history.
Tummies grumbling, the drive to Scranton, SC began. We planned to visit Schoolhouse Barbecue, because we had a hankering for the “Q”. Unfortunately, we arrived too late. Schoolhouse had already closed for the day. Quickly we regrouped and with a new plan in hand, we headed North to Florence. Where were we headed now, you ask? Stefano’s!
In short, Stefano’s is the closest thing to the Italian side of my heritage that we’ve found in Florence. The food tastes totally homemade and the menu varied from across the Old Country. Sure, they have pizza, grinders, cold sandwiches, etc., but the table service restaurant is where it’s at in my book. Stefano’s never disappoints this third generation, partly Sicilian-American.
As background, my grandmother was euphemistically called “Maw Maw Meatball” by high school friends. Her Italian meatballs were legendary and the size of raquetballs. I could eat them one after another. Keep the pasta, the meatballs were all I needed. Along with my mother, I learned a good deal about Southern Italian food from my grandmother.
Today, starters were the Italian salad with house dressing, the Italian Wedding Soup and Pasta Fagioli soup. Of course I tasted the Wedding Soup and it was really good. It’s traditionally made for celebrations, but thankfully it’s always on the menu at Stefano’s. The salad, while always tasty in the past — the house dressing is awesome, by the way – was not on my mind. Something warm was what I wanted. The beans, pasta, potatoes … Mmm, Mmm! It warms the heart and spirit, both of which are perfect for a Sunday in January. Filling as they were, the starters only whetted our appetites for the main courses to come and we didn’t have to wait long at all.
Now I’ve tried many things at Stefano’s in the past, but I’d never tried the Bistecca Pizzaiola. Today was going to be the day. At Stefano’s, it’s a ribeye covered in marinara, mozzarella and oregano. Steak and tomatoes, essentially. I figured going with the steamed veggies would balance the rest of the meal. OK, not really, but it made me feel better about it!
Earlier, while reading the menu, all of those “Everybody Loves Raymond” episodes were bouncing in my brain. This was Ray’s favorite food, after all. The Holy Grail of Italian Steak was within reach. I pictured Marie Barone in the kitchen telling Frank to keep his finger out of the marinara while she prepped the mozzarella. Yep, today was going to be the day that Ray’s favorite food would deliciously materialize in front of me.
Oh, as for our other orders, my daughter had the Ravioli Quattro Formaggi. Did I mention she’s a cheese and pasta nut? With the homemade marinara, she picked a winner with this one. My wife had ravioli as well, but with red peppers and sausage. Nope – she didn’t offer me any; a sure sign that she liked it a lot. I learned that after 15+ years of marriage and several slaps on the hand while reaching across tables hither and yon.
Back to the Holy Grail of Italian steaks… Yes, the day and the actual time had come. The Bistecca Pizzaiola was on its way to the table. Taste buds placed on ready alert, my eyes followed the serving tray all the way from the kitchen. Sure enough, it had tons of mozzarella and just the right amount of “red gravy,” as my grandmother calls it. Lifting my fork, I cut into what was in front of me. The steak that was cooked perfectly – fork tender. I tasted it, savored it and enjoyed every bite of this realized foodie fantasy.
When done, because the table was pretty quiet during the meal, we talked about how much we enjoyed our experience and whether dessert was even a possibility. Not today; we were stuffed. Full with Italian comfort food, we thanked our server and finished the last bits of garlic bread in the basket in the center of the table. One last sip of my drink and our visit to Stefano’s was officially over. Sadly, my first experience with Bistecca Pizzaiola had also come to an end. As always, Stefano’s didn’t disappoint us today. Today, especially, chef would have made Marie Barone proud and (I think) Maw Maw Meatball, as well.
Good Italian food always reminds me of a relaxed time with family. All of us sitting at the kitchen table and catching up on the latest news, fixing the world’s problems and discussing the last good meal we had at some local place across town. Stefano’s is like a brief visit to my grandmother’s house and that local place across town, rolled into one. Great combination, I think. Divertirsi. Mangiare Bene.