A brick oven radiates in the kitchen of Alexander's Restorante and Pizzeria, an eatery that opened in August 2013; in that oven, chefs bake made-from-scratch Neapolitan-style pizzas with thin crusts. Patrons can also savor pizzas with pan crusts, choosing from toppings that range from Italian meats to organic vegetables, or opt for healthy salads or grilled panini sandwiches. Bartenders pour wine behind a gleaming bar, pulling bottles of reds and whites from cherry-wood shelving.
When bartender Larry Raikes moved from Buffalo, New York, to Jacksonville, Florida, in 1982, he couldn't find a single sub—so he stopped mixing drinks and started making his own sandwiches. From that single sub shop, Larry's Giant Subs has mushroomed into an international fount of sandwiches. For each order, sandwich-makers pair provolone cheese with black Angus USDA–choice extra-lean roast beef, 98% fat-free ham, or other meats displayed in a 6-foot deli case. They also pile slices of all-natural, charcoal-grilled chicken breasts onto their signature bread, which is shipped in daily from Costanzo's Bakery in Buffalo.
Inside the shop, a huge statue of King Kong—the shop's mascot—towers over guests, secretly helping young diners to make their sandwich selection in exchange for bananas, and New York–theme memorabilia serves to remind them of their subs' heritage. For hosts and hostesses supplying their own ambiance, Larry's Giant Subs caters platters, 3-foot subs, and 6-footers that feed up to 30 people.
The earthiness of freshly ground espresso mingles with the buttery scent of crepes cooking on the griddle all day at 407 Cafe. Chefs fold the lacelike golden circlets of batter around fillings such as roast beef and sharp cheddar cheese or Nutella and strawberries. With a sizzling drumroll, a panini press shuts on sandwiches until mozzarella cheese melts perfectly around grilled chicken, fresh spinach, and sweet yellow raisins. In the kitchen, cooks craft gelato, a delicate process of folding together eggs, milk, sugar, and loads of fruit. Glass vases on the white dining-room tables brim with coffee beans and bright-green stalks of bamboo like the diorama a biologist makes to get a PhD.
Born in the Lebanese city of Tripoli before moving to Canada in the '80s, Frank Ishraki was raised on the traditional cultures and flavors of his homeland. Ishraki dedicated himself to sharing the classic, healthy flavors of Lebanese cuisine, first in Canada, then at his family of restaurants around Orlando. The Lakeland location is a convenient, quick-service shawarma stop complete with chicken, lamb, and beef loaded on rotating spits to cook evenly and slowly hypnotize diners. Guests can enjoy meats wrapped in pita or served on a platter with tabbouleh and hummus or go vegetarian with rice-stuffed grape leaves and fried falafel.
Family knickknacks and heirlooms ornament the white-panel walls at Sweet Mama's, the inviting roadside eatery where longtime friends Lisa Matson and Linda Moore serve up mouthwatering comfort food. Cooks prepare breakfast favorites all day, stuffing omelets with smoked cheese and asparagus or ladling gravy over country-fried steaks. Lunch and dinner visitors can bite into burgers, wraps, and homestyle specials such as meatloaf made from Lisa's mother's recipe. The women buy locally whenever possible, procuring eggs from an area farmer. Slices of housemade chocolate cake or fruit pie stain the mouth creases of diners who have valiantly found room in their stomach after hearty meals.
Drawn from globally pleasing Italian recipes, Cariera's menus feature an array of classic antipasti, gourmet pizzas, and pastas (click here for the Marketplace menu and here for Lake Hart). Begin a meal in traditional fashion with an antipasto of steamed mussels ($11.50), fried calamari (lightly floured and served with lemon and marinara, $10.50), or bruschetta ($5.95; with buffalo mozzarella, $8.95) and a glass of Da Vinci Chianti ($8). Settling the debate over whether or not to order pasta, entrees at Cariera's that aren't made with pasta come with a side of pasta (except those that are served with vegetables), so you can order your eggplant parmesan––lightly breaded eggplant layered with ricotta, marinara, and mozzarella ($15.95 at Marketplace, $15.50 at Lake Hart)––or veal Marsala, sautéed with mushrooms and Marsala wine ($19.95), with confidence. A tiramisu martini ($10.50) is a fitting dessert as the sun sets over the breezy outdoor patio of either location.