At Stone’s Throw Bistro, chef Rich Lendino tops off his fare with flavorful sauces.
Sauce, gravy, dressing, ragu: Whatever you call it, the liquid accompaniment you use to top a dish seems like it would be the simplest thing in the world to create. But to do it right is in reality a time-consuming art—a chemistry experiment poised to go horribly wrong at the worst time. (Lumpy Thanksgiving gravy sound familiar?)
On my trip to Stone’s Throw Bistro, I found a master.
Tucked into Magnolia Square, a pleasant pedestrian mall in the heart of downtown Sanford, Stone’s Throw is in a Colonial-revival building that formerly housed an Italian place called Da Vinci. I’d eaten there almost 10 years ago, and the original high tin ceiling and incongruous massive crystal chandeliers still remain. The walls show many scars of renovations past, evidence that Sanford is an old town, which, unlike Orlando, holds on to its old buildings.
Like Sanford, chef/owner Rich Lendino also has an affinity for what has come before. Formerly chef at Sanford’s Blue Dahlia and Louis’ Downtown Restaurant in Orlando, Lendino took a family inheritance and opened Stone’s Throw in 2008. “My goal isn’t to reinvent the wheel,” he says of his continental and American fare. “I take the best possible ingredients and make simple dishes, but with a twist.”
The menu changes seasonally, and the week I was there, the season being fall, the menu lent itself to pumpkin. Pumpkin and bacon grits, nutmeg-infused pumpkin (with pumpkin barbecue sauce), and bacon and pumpkin dressing highlighted certain dishes. Oh, yeah, you noticed the bacon, used here in the tradition of Italian pancetta to add an essence of autumn smoke and earth to the mix.
I started with the scallop salad ($10), a dense stack of mixed greens, thin shavings of fennel (remember the licorice taste; it will appear again) and a dressing infused with roasted apples. Three medallions of seared scallop were flawlessly prepared, the caramelized surface a savory match for the sweet dressing and sharp fennel. Those pumpkin grits ($10), served with barbecued shrimp, were a surprisingly hearty joy on what turned out to be a cool evening.
It’s with combinations of flavors that Stone’s Throw excels, and now we can talk sauce. A dish of grouper topped with crab ($21) was accompanied by creamy risotto flavored with artichoke and a delightful lemon butter. To a basic French beurre blanc, Lendino adds a hint of anise (there’s that licorice). “A lot of butter, a lot of lemon,” he says. The piquant citrus goes perfectly with the broiled crab topping; the anise and butter bring the artichoke to life; a lovely, well-planned trifecta of a meal.
A $20 Italian three-course prix fixe menu, which changes weekly, is available on weekdays. Lendino honors his Italian heritage with homey dishes like sweet sausage and slow-cooked meatballs made from beef and pork and cooked in tomato sauce. It’s that long-simmered “Sunday” sauce that is ladled on properly al dente spaghetti, and the layer of scarlet oil at the bottom of the dish is priceless.
After a simple plate of hand-torn fresh mozzarella and tomato, accented by a superb balsamic vinegar, the prix fixe menu offered snapper puttanesca. An apocryphal tale surrounds spaghetti “alla puttanesca,” a traditional meal said to be a specialty of the, shall we say, “working girls” of Naples. It uses capers, olives, anchovies and garlic to create a tomato sauce that wakes up your senses.
In Stone’s Throw’s version, a chubby block of lightly breaded snapper sits below the sugo (sauce), with pasta served separately. Lendino has a sure hand with seafood, buying whole fish from the legendary Gary’s Seafood and cutting it himself. Flaky and moist, it retains enough of its own sweet, slightly nutty flavor to stand up to the robust topping.
As for the chunky sauce, while bold and enticing, it could have benefited from several hours more cooking. Each ingredient, with its strong character, fought for dominance instead of creating an intoxicating blend; it’s a younger, flirtier sauce rather than a seasoned veteran, but still with a hip-swaying spirit.
The third course was a house-made dessert, including a lemon cream cake that I all but inhaled.
Service is friendly and casual. With only Lendino in the kitchen, food may take a while to appear, but it’s worth the wait. When there was a problem with a dish, it was addressed immediately.
After years at other kitchens, Lendino feels secure in his own. “I put my heart into it. I don’t need to impress anyone,” he says. And by doing his best, he does.
Stone’s Throw Bistro
ADDRESS 107 Magnolia Ave. Sanford