When his bistro didn’t click with diners, Chef Rich Lendino turned to his Italian family’s recipes and created Marco Dino’s.
It’s a little sad that Sanford didn’t seem to have room in its heart for an eclectic and adventurous restaurant. Three years ago, Chef Rich Lendino opened Stone’s Throw Bistro in an antique downtown building, crafting bold twists on continental and Florida cuisine. It was, alas, a little too daring, and in December 2011, dwindling local interest brought an end to the establishment.
But he didn’t give up. The following month, the place had a fresh paint job, a newly installed oak bar and a different name: Marco Dino’s, where recipes passed down from Lendino’s grandparents are offered.
The family hails from the tiny island of Ischia, an area of Italy north of Naples that, coincidentally, I am very familiar with. Cheese from Naples, citrus from Amalfi, olive oil from the groves of Gaeta and firm-fleshed fish from the warm waters of the Ulysses Riviera all form the cuisine of the island and influence Marco Dino’s menu.
Deep down, Italy is still a collection of rival city-states, each with its own culture and food, and you can find as many variations on a recipe as there are chefs. What a Roman calls pasta e fagioli, with chunky tomatoes, red beans and bacon, is different from the Sicilian spicy soup of tomato paste, white beans and ham that New Yorkers know as “pasta fazool.” Marco Dino’s pasta e fagioli ($4) is a mild, rich soup, loaded with ditalini pasta and shreds of prosciutto ham, that Lendino says is a secret family recipe. It’s a little too meek for me, but you can’t argue with family secrets.
Lendino’s signature red sauce is a holdover from Stone’s Throw, a slow-simmered, deeply flavored ragu that is ladled over pasta or served with a combination of meatballs, ribs and sausage ($11). What is listed as “stuffed fish” ($20) is a remarkable dish of crabmeat stuffing sandwiched between two filets of white fish (tilapia on my visit). The large portion is drizzled with scampi sauce, and the moist stuffing has an intricate flavor with a hint of caraway that reminded me of the pumpernickel bread from Hollerbach’s German restaurant around the corner.
Chicken picatta ($15) is alive with lemon and tart capers, and a deceptively uncomplicated mushroom risotto ($5) is so packed with meaty mushrooms, firm Arborio rice and a sauce heady enough to taste like a fine liqueur that it might be worth the trip by itself.
Lendino makes everything except the pasta and breadsticks on premises. Lasagna and eggplant parmigiana ($12 each) are hand-built when ordered—there are no giant pre-made pans congealing in the kitchen. Microbrew draught beers are featured at the bar, and Lendino still intends to hold the beer-pairing dinners that highlighted Stone’s Throw’s past, and which will call for the return of some of his more adventurous dishes.
The building is one of the oldest in downtown Sanford and, under the hand of a tasteful and no doubt very expensive designer, could be an architectural showcase. As is, the fresh paint job and bright décor make it pleasant enough, and an old room is a good setting for several generations of splendid cooking history.
Chef Rich believes in making things by hand, including some very satisfying desserts. Ask to see the cheesecake, brownies or sinfully dense tiramisu (all $5) and you won’t let them leave the table.
Marco Dino’s Ristorante 107 Magnolia Ave., Sanford 407-688-2508 marcodinos.com
Cuisine for Charity
The stars of our local culinary universe gather in close-knit constellations for after-hours fun as well as charity. September saw Hari Pulapaka of Cress Restaurant in DeLand celebrating his fourth anniversary by bringing four other remarkable chefs into his tiny kitchen on behalf of the Neighborhood Center of West Volusia, and the results were a memorable dinner. High points included a roasted cauliflower tart by Big Wheel Food Truck’s Tony Adams; a rabbit terrine from Le Cordon Bleu instructor Lynae Gurnsey; Kevin Fonzo’s (K Restaurant) ricotta gnocchi with braised pork ragu; Pulapaka’s own herb-crusted local black grouper; and a dark chocolate and bourbon-infused meringue from The Rusty Spoon’s Kathleen Blake. The kitchen was a whirl of culinary choreography and good-natured ribbing, while the event raised more than $15,000 for the charity and quite a few expectations for more delicious all-star gatherings.
Cool Beans: A 2nd BBD
Black Bean Deli, chosen by readers as Best Latin Restaurant in our 2012 Dining Awards, will open a second location in Orlando in January. The Winter Park mainstay will have its new eatery in the retro gas station building at 1835 E. Colonial Drive that was occupied by Vega’s Café until it closed over the summer after a 36-year run. Andy Corton, who owns both Black Bean and the La Empanada Food Truck, plans to offer the full Black Bean menu at the new location, plus strong Cubano coffee, Cuban beers on tap and longer hours. blackbeandeli.yolasite.com