Toscano Italian Grill lures with delicious house specialties.
Unless you’re joining the military or buying a mattress, you may not know where the Toscano Italian Grill is located—but it’s worth the effort to find it. Tucked into one of the strip malls across from the Regions Bank at the intersection of Highway 153 and Lee Highway, you will find a small, unassuming restaurant that has taken typical Italian fare and given it a twist.
The dining room is a mixture of booths and tables. Twin ceiling fans keep the air—and aromas—circulating. Once seated, you are given the most difficult of tasks: to take a menu and choose only a few items to consume.
The bill of fare includes the usual appetizers, soups and salads, entrees and desserts. Yet included in these broad categories are both standard recipes and those which can only be found in this modest eatery. These are recipes developed by the co-owners, Mohamed Elbardissy and Terry Ismaiel. The two grew up in New York, but spent some of their later years in Newport, Rhode Island, where they learned not only Italian cooking, but specialization in seafood dishes.
We’ll begin where one always should in a restaurant, with appetizers. There are the onion rings, French fries, fried mushrooms and mozzarella sticks, but add to that the Toscano specialties of Bacon Cheese Fries, Fried Ravioli and Bruschetta.
I tried two items. The Italian Garlic Knots are little pieces of bread dough tied into knots, baked, topped with grated Parmesan cheese and herbs and served swimming in garlic butter. They are slightly crunchy on the outside, tender and flavorful on the inside. Dunked into the marinara sauce provided, the flavors all meld magically.
My favorite Toscano appetizer, though, is the Italian Nachos. The chips are actually deep-fried pasta, light and crispy, topped with a thick Alfredo sauce with chicken and jalapeno peppers. I give you fair warning that the portions are large and the urge is to eat every morsel.
Soups change daily. Salads range from the simple Toscano Salad with lettuce, tomatoes, onions green peppers and shredded carrots to the Grilled Shrimp Salad using fresh Romaine lettuce, black olives and topped with grilled shrimp and grated Parmesan cheese.
Entrees span the gamut from pasta dishes and pizza to seafood dishes and hot subs. Together with the traditional spaghetti, ravioli and stuffed manicotti, Toscano has added their Taste of Italy. One plate is home to a generous portion of tri-color rotini pasta covered in a thick Alfredo sauce, three-layer lasagna with meat and three cheeses and a Chicken Parmesan to die for.
Chicken dishes make up another section of the menu. Once again there is a Toscano specialty in the form of Butter Lemon Chicken. Tender chicken is married to mushroom, artichoke hearts and capers, cooked in a homemade butter lemon sauce, and ladled over penne pasta.
Six seafood dishes are available, the most ambitious of which is the “Fruit De Mari” or Fruit of the Sea. Based in a bold red sauce, this dish includes calamari rings, shrimp, baby scallops and chopped clams served over spaghetti noodles. It’s a difficult task to get these particular ingredients together because shrimp, scallops and squid all require different cooking times and temperatures, yet the cooks at Toscano managed successfully to pull it off.
For an Italian restaurant, the benchmark of the menu must be the pizza. A good pizza recipe can save even a mediocre menu. But in the case of Toscano Italian Grill, the pizza must compete with all the other wonderful dishes for attention. To do so, Elbardissy and Ismaiel spent extra effort in developing the perfect crust and baking it in a brick oven.
The restaurant’s slogan is “Nobody DOUGHS it Better.” And they live up to it every day. The New York-style pizza is perfect in every way, with slices foldable (a test of authenticity) even in the small size.
Finally, the desserts. Once again, it’s a Toscano specialty that tops the list, a Deep-Fried Oreo Cookie. There’s also a fried cheesecake and an Italian staple that surely prompted Clemenza to say, “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”
Toscano Italian Grill
6219 Lee Highway
(at Highway 153)
10:30 a.m. – 10:30 p.m.