By Lenore Devore
THE LEDGER

Published: Wednesday, July 8, 2015 at 4:05 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, July 8, 2015 at 4:05 p.m.

3615 S. Florida Ave suite 131 Lakeland FL 33803


863-607-6030

mick772010@live.com

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 Il Forno Italian Restaurant 

The more traditional Italian might opt for lasagna, layers of pasta stuffed with a combination of ground beef, veal and sausage, along with three cheeses and marinara sauce, all for $10.99 (this also comes with a bread stick and house or Caesar salad). The meat is so finely ground together you wouldn’t think you can actually pick out individual flavors, but you can, which makes this dish enjoyable.

Now for the Stromboli ($8.74, with no idea how they got that price) — crispy, hot dough filled with mounds of mozzarella, Romano and parmigiana and heaping helpings of pepperoni and mushrooms. It’s wonderful as is, but add a little sauce from a side dish and it gets even better. This might not be as large a Stromboli as you’ll find in other restaurants, but it is quite filling.

Beyond the entrees, which were exceptional, the starters were just OK. Michele’s Famous Pasta Fagioli ($3.99 for a bowl) was not nearly as good as competing restaurants, lacking any depth of flavor in the broth. Carrots, beans and noodles were plentiful enough, but after a few bites I was done — and this is one of my favorite soups.

The same goes for the fried Calamari ($8.99), an appetizer we order often. The tentacles passed muster, but the rings were a bit tough. The breading worked well — not too heavy, not falling off. This was not close to the best we’ve had, but it also wasn’t the worst.

After we actually got our Salted Caramel Cheesecake ($4.99), it was amazing, and even though we didn’t come close to eating all our food, we ate this delicious dessert. We also tried the Tiramisu ($4.49), which was not as moist as most — it almost seemed like it was a few days old.

In a routine restaurant inspection April 28, Il Forno met inspection standards, with one high-priority violation for not having pizza on the front counter protected from contamination.

Il Forno is a working man’s restaurant, and the owner hosts a variety of charity events, most recently selling plates of pasta for $10 to raise money for a Lakeland Police Department employee with cancer. You can’t help but love that community spirit.

Overall, a trip to Il Forno is worth the time and money, bringing a little bit of Italy to Polk County. You will enjoy your lunch or dinner, and then enjoy the leftovers the next day, when Italian seems to taste even better.

If you’re looking for amore in an Italian restaurant, head to Il Forno in South Lakeland and you’ll discover love in a variety of dishes.

After getting off to just a so-so start with an appetizer and soup, we found love while sharing veal parmigiana and a make-your-own stromboli. One of us cheated and tasted the homemade lasagna, which I enjoyed solo, only because my husband doesn’t eat pasta.

One dessert was the reuniting factor, a dish so worthy that, even full, you can’t leave one bite.

At Il Forno, you’ll quickly encounter better-than-average service, larger portions and prices so reasonable you can bring the whole family.

During a recent non-review visit that included 12 dining guests, the wait staff was right there for all our needs. While doing the review, though, our waiter, who said he had worked there for years, acted clueless a couple times. The good thing is this: Other staff members jumped in to help, whether answering a simple question or responding to a waving customer who wondered: Is this really Salted Caramel Cheesecake? because it sure looks and tastes like plain cheesecake to us (we were right, and a new dessert was delivered, sans apology).

The highlights of the night were the entrees: veal parmigiana, a Stromboli and lasagna straight from the oven.

The veal was tender, breaded perfectly, then covered with the restaurant’s excellent marinara sauce and mozzarella. The piping hot parmigiana is a meal unto itself, a giant portion to fill the manliest of men. But that’s not all you get. Included is a side of your choice of pasta, a good-sized salad (I recommend the very unique sun-dried tomato dressing) and thick, hot, perfectly seasoned bread sticks, all for $14.99.

Facts
Il Forno Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria

3615 S. Florida Ave., Lakeland.
863-607-6030
Hours: Tuesdays through Thursdays and Sundays, 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Open until 10:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Closed Mondays.
Food:***1/2 
Service: ***1/2
Ambience: ***
THE GIST: 
Italian food, from pizza and stuffed shells to fettucini alfredo and shrimp fra diavlo.
FYI: 
Breadsticks are so good you’ll want to overindulge. Don’t forget to save room for the entrée.
CREDIT CARDS: 
All
PRICE RANGE:
$8.99 to $14.99, not including sandwiches or pizzas.
APPROPRIATE FOR KIDS:
Yes.
MUST TRY: 
Veal parmigiana, lasagna, strombolis.

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