I like Carrabba’s. It is a lively spot with outstanding brick oven pizza, and it offers really good spaghetti and meatballs. It always delivers on consistency, and I have yet to meet someone who didn’t love the chicken Brian. Founder Johnny Carrabba and his uncle, co-founder Damien Mandola, are longtime friends of mine. In fact, our granddaughter had lunch with Johnny at his original restaurant in Houston just a few months after she was born. Johnny taught me how to make authentic brick chicken, and Damien is always one to play a good practical joke while someone is filming a TV show. You cannot walk into most restaurants in Florence without someone telling you they love the “Johnny Carrabba.”
Cooking with Damien Mandola: always a laugh.
So when Carrabba’s comes out with a new menu, count me and my fork, spoon and Parmesan cheese in. We prefer the Carrabba’s on Stickney Point Road; the staff is so nice and managers make you feel like you are in their kitchen.
Most of the new items were a home run, starting with the spinach fonduta at 9.99. An oven-baked blend of spinach and fontina and Gruyere cheeses, this bubbly dish is salty from the blend of the cheeses, and decadent when smothered on the grilled bruschetta bread.
For our entrees, we tried the filet tips with polenta, chicken cacciatore, rigatoni al forno and two new hand-held sandwiches—the chicken Parmesan and tilapia.
As a New Englander, we crave and miss skewered grilled steak tips on almost every restaurant menu we come across. Carrabba’s were tasty and tender, and I would order again atop a large salad instead of with the polenta.
The chicken cacciatore was not my favorite, because I’m one to make it with the bones on the chicken and use some thighs for more flavor. Again, with this dish the polenta was too much—I would have preferred pasta.
A table favorite was the rigatoni al forno. For only $13, this casserole dish came filled with pasta, homemade marinara, Italian fennel sausage, and fresh ricotta and mozzarella cheeses baked to a gooey goodness.
The sandwiches were fantastic, and the tilapia an amazing surprise—full of flavor and a huge portion.
Carrabba’s incredible new dessert had me at first bite.
The encore—dessert—was sinfully seductive, and I yearn for my next serving of cinnamon apple crostada. At $7.70, this dessert can easily feed several people, but I couldn’t stop digging into the apple lushness, and fear I may break someone’s arm if they get to close to me when I’m eating it. Think about a warm, homemade apple tart with a thin layer of homemade hazelnut filling baked in a wood oven and topped with caramel sauce. For all those readers who ask me where to get a good homemade apple pie: This one beats Grandma’s in Idaho to shame.
Just one thing: We miss the pizza bar and hope someday they will bring back our stools so we can hang out with Alma and Pedro.
What new tastes have you been loving lately?
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