A sign that hangs on the wall between the bar and the kitchen at Le Sorelle reads, “Some call it chaos, we call it family,” and that pretty much sums up this family business. “Le Sorelle” references the three sisters who own and operate the Italian restaurant, pizzeria and wine bar.
On any given night you will see Anna, Luisa and Candida Mazzella fully engaged in the dining room taking orders and conversing with diners like old friends. Depending on the evening, family patriarch Salvatore Mazzella joins in the festivities. When business levels dictate, brother Mauro or any one of the sisters’ husbands are just a phone call away to pitch in and help. “Because that’s what families do, we are always there for each other,” explained Candida.
Hospitality runs deep in this family, dating to 1962, when the sisters’ parents, Rosalina and Salvatore Mazzella, opened the pizzeria Ponza in Bronx, New York. In 1990, they followed their roots back to their hometown, the island of Ponza, Italy, in the Tyrrhenian Sea, and opened Ristorante La Palma. Six years later they added a bed and breakfast and hotel rooms. The property boasts the mark of an “albergo diffuso,” an Italian hospitality distinction with specific guidelines developed to revive small, historic villages. Touted for its cuisine and stunning seaside location, Ristorante La Palma has become famous for attracting seasonal international tourists and summer residents with celebrity status. The family continues to travel back and forth in season to manage the business. When Anna and her husband relocated from New York to South Florida for work in 2007, gradually the rest of the family followed. In 2012 the Mazzellas’ love for Italian wines led to another business offshoot when they launched Lytrium Fine Italian Wines, an importing and distribution company based in Oakland Park.
At Le Sorelle, lunch and dinner is served daily in three separate, intimate dining rooms with total seating for 60 guests. An additional 30 seats are planned for an adjoining outdoor patio.
On a recent week night we opted to sit at the wine bar, eager to be entertained by Sergio De Ludicibus, the master chef pizzaiolo, as he operated the wood burning oven. The front row seats proved to be more than we had anticipated as the family dynamics unfolded before our eyes. A steady flow of bantering back and forth in Italian, among very vocal siblings, with laughter and hugs, made us feel as if we were in their home kitchen rather than their restaurant. But confusion set in, from a service standpoint, without a designated person working the bar. Orders and questions were directed to the nearest person.
While contemplating a lengthy list of menu choices, Luigi offered us a slice of his margarita pizza. Because it’s all about sharing the love of food here. A nicely charred, chewy crust provides the platform for puddles of melted buffalo mozzarella and fresh basil. A return visit will be in store for a designated pizza night. An Italian classic, the Frittura di calamari ($14), coupled with strips of zucchini, gets a pleasing, crispy light cornmeal coating that gives way to tender rings with a marinara sauce for dipping. Yet, the menu mention of balsamic reduction didn’t make the plate. A finishing pass in the wood burning oven yields a delicious, cheesy crust on the Melanzane alla parmigiana ($18).
Thinly sliced eggplant layered with buffalo mozzarella, Parmigiano Reggiano and a Pelati tomato sauce has a creaminess that melts in your mouth. The portion size looked more like entrée than appetizer. The messy ceramic, gratin serving dish covered in baked-on schmutz could have used the swipe of a towel before going in the oven. Menu sections are divided into “sea” and “land.” Appetizers cover all the classics from seafood salad, octopus and potato and shrimp cocktail to salami and cheese platter, beef carpaccio and burrata and caprese salads, among others.
A plate of Orecchiette broccoli e salsiccia ($25) arrives with al dente “little ears” and a hearty amount of Italian sausage but was overwhelmed by a heavy hand on the salty broccoli rabe. The special pasta this evening, Fiochetti ($25), was an insanely rich dish of twisted pasta pouches filled with complimenting flavors of pear, prosciutto and Gorgonzola, finished with a sinful cream sauce. Additional primi temptations include spaghetti vongole, lobster ravioli, seafood linguine and seafood risotto for two. For meatier choices go for the the paccheri Bolognese, beef lasagna, spaghetti carbonara or tortellini in brodo.
A salt encrusted Branzino al sale cotto al forno a legna ($50) slides off the pizza peel and into the wood burning oven. After a watchful eye of roasting, Sergio removes the crust and filets the whole fish. Simple, clean and delicious, the dish is finished with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. That was all it needed. Confusion sets in when the Filet mignon ($50) cotto al forno a legna arrives on a naked plate. We were at fault by not specifying the Filetto ai funghi porcini ($45). Our mistake. Regardless, the steak served listed sides of mushrooms and spinach, which didn’t make role call. After bringing it to the attention of the nearest family member, others overheard and the conversation grew to epic proportion. An appreciated gesture by way of a side of porcinis in a heavy cream sauce arrived. But it was over the top for the dish and the already decadent meal. Earthy oven roasted mushrooms would have paired well with the rich, two-inch cut of beef. Again, cooked to perfection in the wood burning oven, an art Sergio has undoubtedly mastered. Grouper, tuna, salmon, rib-eye steak, veal chop, sausage and several chicken dishes offer over a dozen more entrée choices covers all bases.
The Sbriciolata di millefoglie alla crema chantilly ($10) was less than stellar with garnishes of sweet cream, what tasted and looked like a squeeze of Hershey’s syrup and neon red strawberry gel unable to mask the puff pastry lacking crispness and flavor. Although the Tiramisu ordered never arrived, in its place, a gratis dessert special that “tasted like no other” Italian raspberry cheesecake. That held true when a pink, airy raspberry mousse-like dessert was presented in a martini glass with a spoonful a graham crumbs in the bottom of the cone.
If you’re up for an action-packed meal, grab a seat at the wine bar. For something more subdued, head for a table. Despite any shortcomings, that hopefully get ironed out over time, Le Sorelle remains one of those triumphant South Florida finds that you stumble upon. Chef Gian Carlo Le Donne prepares honest, authentic cuisine. I chalk up some of the missteps to a language barrier and leave feeling satiated. While the experience was a heartwarming reminder of what family is all about. No matter how chaotic.
Le Sorelle Restaurant
6020 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton
Cuisine: Italian restaurant, pizzeria and wine bar
Hours: Lunch and dinner daily
Reservations: Accepted and encouraged due to limited seating
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Beer and wine
Sound level: Conversational
Outside smoking: Yes
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Lot and free valet Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights
Kids: very kid friendly, kids menu, highchairs