Danny Scarfone makes outstanding coal-fired pizza, but the best reason to eat at his popular new Wilton Manors restaurant may be his chicken wings.
Those wings ($11 for 10/$17 for 20) are marinated for 48 hours in a mixture of lemon juice, olive oil and Italian seasonings. The marinade and the coal oven create some of the most tender and flavorful wings I can remember eating. Served with caramelized onions, they are what I will eat when I return.
Wings and pizza made up the original menu at the first Scarfone's Coal Fired Pizza, which opened seven years ago in Coral Springs. The expanded Wilton Manors menu has proved so popular that folks out west can expect to find a bigger menu and updated decor in the coming months.
Scarfone's South Florida restaurant resume starts in the early '90s, when he opened Bella Notte Italian Ristorante on State Road 84 in Davie. Scarfone didn't know how to cook. One Sunday at brunch, his chef refused to offer mint jelly with the lamb they were serving. At that moment, Scarfone realized he needed to learn his way around a kitchen.
"If you don't know the back, you're hostage," says Scarfone, who very quickly went off to the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. Upon his return, he ran the restaurants and cafes at the Design Center of the Americas in Dania Beach before opening Scarfone's in Coral Springs.
Scarfone's pizza is crispy, but not as burnt as some of his competitors. In the belief that every little nutritional bit matters, we ordered a wheat-crust pizza one night and didn't know that we were eating anything but white flour. Thin and crisp, it was the perfect vehicle for the fresh mozzarella, tomato, basil and touch of sauce on the pie called Frankie Tomatoe's ($19.25 for a large/$20 for the wheat). They even offer a gluten-free option.
One thing: A wise chef once told me that some pizzas are meant for eating in restaurants and others are meant to be consumed at home. These are definitely better in the restaurant.
Along with pizza and wings, however, Scarfone's serves some incredible Italian-American dishes. Meatballs and ricotta ($9.75), two giant orbs packed tight with seasoned ground meat, contain little visible bread filler. They've quickly become a menu favorite. A delicious eggplant tower ($11) features a lightly breaded and sautéed eggplant, fresh mozzarella and roasted peppers with balsamic vinaigrette, crumbled feta and Romano curls.
Chicken Milanese salad ($14) starts with a breaded, sautéed and sliced breast of breaded chicken served over lettuce, olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion and feta. It's dressed with red-wine vinaigrette, and is a perfect lunchtime serving. So, too, is the meatball parmigiana hoagie ($10.95) or a big bowl of soup called the Show ($5), with diced chicken, mini meatballs, sausage, roasted red peppers and pasta in a tomato broth.
The menu is an obvious combination of Italian home cooking and Scarfone's training. Chicken Scarfone ($16), for instance, uses an "old-time recipe" from the chef's mother. Butter, garlic, oregano, vodka and white wine are the base of the sauce that's served with boneless chicken breast, which is sautéed with mushrooms and artichokes. The buttery sauce has a touch of tomato to give it a pink tinge. The entire dish is served over spaghetti.
Among the 13 pastas is the peculiarly named but delicious Big C ($16). It's penne with cannellini beans, sausage, roasted peppers, red onion and Parmesan cheese. The night we ordered it, the pasta was overdone, but the flavor was there.
When Scarfone and his wife and co-owner, Angie, first looked at the space, it was a cafe that they expanded from one to four storefronts. It's furnished with an eclectic mix of high-tops, white banquettes and regular tables. I wish they'd lose the bass-heavy club music.
"I think the Drive needed something a little more upscale and chic," he says.
Service at Scarfone's is friendly and efficient, although even on an early evening visit, I didn't encounter the long waits that have become commonplace at a new restaurant that only takes reservations for large parties.
"We only have a limited number of tables inside," Scarfone says of his 96-seater. "We haven't had any complaints about it. When there's a wait, we pass out complimentary flatbreads and pizza. Everyone knows one another here on the Drive. It's like a big social network."
There are 20 seats outside, 15 in an area called the couch cove and another 10 at the bar, where drinks are two-for-one all day and night.
2150 Wilton Drive, Wilton Manors
Hours: Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday
Reservations: Only for parties of six or more
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Can be loud
Outside smoking: Yes
For kids: Highchairs, boosters, menu items on request
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Lot and meters