International Plaza had better watch its back. WestShore Plaza? Wiregrass is gunning for you both. When the Shops at Wiregrass opened in 2008 it was a little lean on restaurants and grab-and-go spots. Yamato Japanese Steakhouse, Cantina Laredo, Brass Tap and a few others were early to come on board. But it didn't seem like it would have a density of destination restaurants to rival Bay Street.
Slowly but surely Wiregrass has begun to fill out, adding coffee shops (Barnie's Coffee and Tea, 365 Caffé Italiano), quick stops (Teriyaki Experience) and drinking establishments like Prime Bar or nightclubs like the sleek new Aja. But what makes a shopping center a draw for diners is experiences you can't get elsewhere, either independent restaurants or chain concepts that don't have other local outposts (think Cheesecake Factory at International Plaza or P.F. Chang's at WestShore).
Vince, Joe and Tony Cangialosi opened Pagelli's Italiano on April 8 not far from the big Pottery Barn store. They have a flagship restaurant of the same name in the Coconut Point shopping center in Estero, south of Fort Myers. It's a concept that is well suited to mallgoers' needs. This new location is attractive and open, with shaded patio dining right along the outdoor mall's central walkway and an Italian dessert case at the front that manages to turn most heads.
For now they're only serving lunch Friday to Sunday, but those hours will expand as they settle into a groove. The lunch menu is a pared-down version of the dinner one, with the addition of a handful of crisp ciabatta panini. At dinner, it's a single sheet of forthright and familiar Italian staples with around the same price point as a Carrabba's or Macaroni Grill. Dishes, though not infallible, read like competent homemade versions of foods you've eaten many times before.
Quality mozzarella and tomato rounds comprise the caprese salad ($9), but I'd ditch the super syrupy balsamic sauce in favor of straight-up balsamic vinegar and olive oil; it's so sweet it makes the tomatoes taste tinny. Tender and greaseless fried calamari ($9) are bedded down on squiggles of buttery fried onions, a nice touch, and for a little more variety you can get those same calamari with fried shrimp and banana peppers ($14), which add just the right little kick.
From there, both house pastas and the short list of pizzas provide some lovely options. The paisano pizza ($12) makes for a great shared nibble, topped with lush moz, not too much sauce and a heavy load of pepperoni, sausage, sopresatta and a flurry of basil lest it seem too meaty. Of the pastas, our favorite assay was a veal and beef tortellini dish ($17) settled into a creamy pink sauce enriched with ground beef, ham and scallion.
Pagelli's servers show remarkable equipoise for such a new restaurant. They pace things nicely, answer menu questions and address the needs of the varied clientele. And it is varied: As with every shopping center restaurant, there are families with babies, beleaguered women surrounded by shopping bags, office parties, singles and date-nighters. With a full bar and short, heavily Italian wine list, Pagelli's is inviting and attractive. Consider it a new form of retail therapy.
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