With the exception of the obvious (that being the Italy Pavilion of the EPCOT World Showcase), Walt Disney World is not precisely overrun with options for Italian dining. That said, there are enough scattered around the resort area to allow for ample satisfaction of errant yearnings for pizza, gelato and the like. First, a little round-up of the biggies in EPCOT'S Italy. Aside from the Italian foodstuffs available in the La Bottega Italiana (this shop sells non-food items, as well, but a hat-tip is deserved for its selection of Italian chocolate in particular), this Pavilion is unsurprisingly the best set-up for your cannoli cravings. Via Napoli, a beautiful, soaring eatery, is perhaps best-known for its pizza which many Disney aficionados say is the park's best by far. The recently renovated Tutto Italia offers what could be described as a more intimate fine-dining experience. Its sister establishment, the Tutto Gusto Wine Cellar, is a wonderful stop on the "drink around the world" EPCOT journey, but for its small plates and shareable dishes. The Italian wine flights don't hurt, either. At Disney's Hollywood Studios, Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano is a venerable favorite – and a must-stop for novelty dessert lovers. Its signature "On Top of Spaghetti" cupcake is a sweet hat-tip to "Lady & the Tramp" and a foodie photo-op if ever there was.
Gasparilla Island Grill
This quick-service, fast-casual eatery inside Disney's five-star Grand Floridian Resort & Spa is not an Italian restaurant. In fact, it offers up a wide array of breakfast, lunch and dinner item including many "build your own" options ideal for pleasing an array of palates. That's precisely why we've included it here. Pasta fans delight: at this eatery, you can create your own dish from several different "shapes" and a long list of toppings such as prosciutto, spinach, broccoli, sausage, shrimp, sun-dried tomatoes, Kalamata olives and more. Sauce options include marinara, pesto and Alfredo. Gluten-free pasta and flatbread-style pizza is generally available, as well. ((407) 824-3000)
Disney dining doesn't necessarily require park admission. Case in point: Portobello, a casual, comfortable eatery in Downtown Disney with an atmosphere as rustic as its parking is free. Choose from a selection of specialty pizzas from the restaurant's wood-fired oven or opt for seafood and meat dishes chicken pizzaiola, milk-braised pork shoulder or a grilled catch-of-the-day. Pastas include traditional offerings (penne Bolognese) as well as unexpected fare(black fettuccine with shrimp) Outdoor tables offer up shaded people-watching (where better than at Disney?) and views of both the expansive lake and the charming riverboat that serves as the venue for Fulton's Crab House. (407-934-8888)
Tony's Town Square
Bright and sunny and awash with the romance of the Disney classic "Lady and the Tramp," Tony's Town Square is a wonderfully casual eatery in the heart of the Magic Kingdom. Themed in part on the romance of that ubiquitous scene where Tramp and Lady share a romantic spaghetti dinner in the alley, diners here enjoy pizza, Panini and myriad Italian classics from scampi to cannelloni. Tony's serves some rich desserts, as well. Favorites include the pistachio crème brulee and tiramisu. Outdoor seating is available at Tony's and a phenomenal perch for people watching as you enjoy your meal. Try the zucchini fries! ((407) 939-3463 or)
Orlando's weather doesn't cave (much) to the likes of the Polar Vortex and so warm-weather treats abound. Few are as delightful, however, as that proffered by this World Showcase kiosk in the heart of EPCOT'S Italy. Serving up decadently cool delights in the form of gelato – rich Italian ice cream that's notable for its creamy, dreamy texture – this stand offers what might be the best gelato-related treats in all of Walt Disney World: the gelato cookie sandwich. It's available either pre-made (think classic "chipwich") or fresh, where creamy gelato melds with warm cookie into the weapon to end all diets.
Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano
You can love Disney for a zillion things, of course, but they do have a Ph.D. in "back story." Mama Melrose, you see, was a would-be starlet who came to Hollywood (ahem, Studios) to pursue fame on the silver screen. Turned out, though, that being a restaurateur was her raison d'etre – and so she opened an eatery lauded by movie stars and regular folk alike. Mama Melrose's is a Disney-does-Little Italy affair with a cozy, family-joint vibe. And it really does feel like a place you can bring the kids. Food is hearty and the menu is loaded down with Italian classics, many of which you'll recognize. ((407) 939-3463)
In the morning, Ravello plays host to breakfast for guests at the Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort (character breakfasts, even!); but come evening the menu gets the boot. And by boot, we mean it heads straight to Italy. Appetizers like calamari, bruschetta and delightful polpettine (meatballs) arrayed with rich cheese and salty meats - don't come here on diet day! - tempt diners in a family-friendlier venue than this posh properties other options. Pastas, meat-based entrees and pizza rounds out the menu in a lively, open atmosphere just off the Four Season's lobby. Start your meal off with a glass of wine or a craft cocktail from the restaurant's ample menu. (407-313-7777)
Il Mulino New York Trattoria
This Orlando venture, located inside the Walt Disney World Swan hotel, is an off-shoot of the famed New York restaurant which dominated critics' lists for decades. The menu here pulls from the Abruzzi region and is complemented by a dining room rich with rustic colors imparted via contemporary design, a melding of Old World and new. Family-style dishes – select appetizers and entrees are offered-- are a nice touch, available for parties of four or more and priced per person. It's an option that adds to the warmth of the venue. Large groups are welcome here (contact the restaurant in advance). Heading elsewhere for dinner? Visit the Il Mulino lounge for a cocktail or enjoy an app or two before visiting your final destination. (407-934-1199)
Tutto Italia Ristorante
Benvenuto in Italia! Tutto Italia welcomes you to the nation by way of the Italy Pavilion in the EPCOT World Showcase, of course, but like Via Napoli, it makes a great show of its authentic touches. First and foremost, that comes in the form of an all-Italian staff. Showcasing classic Italian dishes chosed from all across Italy, fans of rich tomato or cream sauces will find as much to savor as those more inclined to order lighter or more protein-rich options, roast chicken and grilled salmon among them. A vast selection of Italian wines is on-hand, as well. Staffers will be happy to make suggestions. It's an elegant option for a Disney date night, whether dining inside or al fresco. ((407) 939-3463)
Tutto Gusto Wine Cellar
Located adjacent to Tutto Italia in the Italy portion of EPCOT's World Showcase, Tutto Gusto Wine Cellar is a intimate eatery offering small plates, hundreds of wines by the bottle or glass and an array of other refreshing beverages, as well. The space here is inviting, comfortable and rustic. Although primarily a wine venue, those with a preference for beer or cocktails will feel right at home. Tutto Gusto features a small-plate menu consisting of meats, cheese, pasta, Panini and dessert, making it an excellent choice for sampling the Italian offerings at EPCOT. Some dishes are even made for sharing. ((407) 939-3463)
Visitors to EPCOT expect, rightfully, to get authentic cuisine in the various international pavilions around the park. Located in "Italy," Via Napoli Ristorante e Pizzeria delivers the sauce for certain, but its thin-crust pizza, which bakes in record time in the gaping maws of ovens so hot they're named for the nation's most famous volcanoes – Etna, Vesuvius and Stromboli – is a crispy, chewy, gooey delight for the taste buds. In fact, they take the art so seriously, Via Napoli brings in water sourced from a domestic spring similar to Italy's Campania region. With the crust well covered, diners are welcome to source the toppings themselves for an array of meats, cheese and vegetables. Not in the mood for pizza? It's the house specialty, but fear not: an array of other Italian dishes await. ((407) 939-3463)
About A.D. Thompson
A.D. Thompson has spent more than 20 years as a professional writer and roughly 15 as a Floridian. The words, she has found, come easier with bare feet and rum.
A roller coaster enthusiast, A.D. readily admits there is fun to be had amid the madness of the theme parks, but has found there is magic, as well, in the outer-lying reaches of Mickey’s long shadow. She is delighted to share with you the spoils of her adopted city.
Visit her colorful compendium at www.amydrewthompson.com.
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