Italian Red Sauce

Italian Red Sauce (Courtesy / June 20, 2013)

A big, bold restaurant name such as "Italian Red Sauce comes with a large personality in the form of owner Alfonso Ceparano. The hulk of a man, a New Yorker with the accent to prove it, roams the restaurant in a black suit shirt and tie as he chats with patrons, pats shoulders and shakes hands.

The restaurant's decor matches his distinct taste and life experience. When you first walk in, you'll see a wall with more than two dozen old photographs of Ceparano's large family. To the left, one wall is a re-creation of the pope's residence in Vatican City. Immediately in front is a large glass dessert counter with a mini bakery of cheesecakes, cannolis and more. The main dining area features a 1940s-style facade of storefronts, like something you'd see as you roam Main Street USA at Walt Disney World or in the waterfront area near the "Jaws" ride at Universal Studios. The faux storefronts are reminiscent of Little Italy, with "Raffa's Italian Bread" advertising "Italian bread and biscuits," or "Ashley's Fine Dining" with little white embroidered drapes. But behind some of the dining room's windows is the real deal: the Red Sauce chefs working in view of the dining room as they grill meats and prepare pastas.

Those people who exalt the motifs of white vinyl furniture and trendy, wildly colored glass lamps may roll their eyes at the restaurant's design. Others, such as those in our camp, will delight in roaming the restaurant. Regardless, we quickly forgot we were in suburban Sunrise due to the whimsical decor, lack of exterior windows and the music of crooners such as Michael Buble and Frank Sinatra playing overhead. Our only knock on the settings: The acoustics inside can make the dining area get louder than usual, so you may want to request sitting at one of the more-sequestered tables if available.


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Most plates here are divided into two options: a single portion that feeds one to two and a family-size portion that feeds about three to four. As our appetizers arrived, it was time to see if the restaurant's name was more than an idle boast.

A solid start is the "fritto all 'Italiana" ($12.95/$20.95), a mix of fried appetizers including a potato croquet, rice ball, fried mozzarella and polenta. As advertised, the accompanying red sauce is delicious, mildy sweet with a thin but slightly grainy texture that had us lapping it up with a spoon.

Meatballs with an enormous dollop of ricotta cheese in a pool of red sauce ($12.95/$22.95) rank favorably on my list of favorite local meatballs, with their dense, meaty flavor. You really don't want to miss the eggplant Parmesan ($12.95/$21.95), rich with mozzarella and an unlikely appetizer offering. Just roll with it.

Another sure bet is the Red Sauce-style house salad ($10.95/$16.95), featuring Asiago cheese and roasted red peppers that practically sing with the house dressing.

Left nearly full from the large appetizers, we were enticed anew when the entrees arrived.

If you try nothing else at this restaurant, go for the homemade gnocchi with braised short ribs and Parmesan cheese ($17.95/$32.95). The short ribs were like meaty butter accompanied by nearly-as-wonderful homemade pasta. This is the dish I'd drive back here for.

Another great option is the "gamberoni gratinati" ($22.95/$39.95), shrimp breaded with light spices and baked to a flavorful, buttery consistency that we seldom find in restaurants. Chicken Parmesan ($16.95/$27.95) is solid and straightforward in its preparation, far upstaged by the other offerings. Tagliatelle pasta with stuffed beef, pecorino cheese and pine nuts ($17.95/$32.95) is a tasty but polarizing dish due to the heavy amounts of garlic. What really shined in this dish was the exceptional quality of the pasta.

Finally, it was time to get to what we'd all been hankering for since we walked past that pastry counter by the door. Tiramisu ($6.50) was heavy on the cocoa and cinnamon, but extremely moist and tantalizing. Chocolate sponge cake ($6.50) is a surefire choice for the table, with its lovely flavor and impressive presentation of swirled cream. We asked the server to make the third dessert a surprise, and he emerged with cream puffs with white cream filling topped with a luscious, creamy zabaglione sauce that had us melting at the table.

For its homey yet highly professional Italian hospitality, its numerous crowd-pleasing dishes and some big personality to match its big plates, Italian Red Sauce is a most-welcome addition to a region that could use many more great restaurants.

Italian Red Sauce

3828 N. University Drive, Sunrise

954-533-8347, ItalianRedSauce.net

Cuisine: Italian, family-style

Cost: Moderate-expensive

Hours: Lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; dinner 5-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 4-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 5-10 p.m. Sunday

Reservations: Recommended

Bar: Full service

Sound level: Loud

Outside smoking: No

For kids: Highchairs, no kids' menu

Wheelchair accessible: Yes