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Carino's restaurant planned at Little Road

Johnny Carino's Country Italian, a chain moving aggressively into Florida, plans to open a 150-seat restaurant near the corner of Little and Ridge roads.

It's one of two Carino's the Tampa-based franchisee, Al Dente LLC, has recently proposed for Pasco County. The other is near State Road 54 and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard in Wesley Chapel.

The owners of Al Dente also run a slew of Applebee's Neighborhood Grill & Bars in the Tampa Bay area.

Al Dente has agreed to buy 2 acres of vacant land owned by H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center on the northwest corner of Little Road and Youth Lane, north of Ridge Plaza shopping center.

The restaurant focuses on what it calls Southern Italian country cooking. Specialties include pepperoni bread, calamari, homemade lasagna and wood-fired pizzas.

To play up a sense of coziness, the chain trims its dining areas in antique-looking framed family pictures, Italian pottery and colorful mismatched wooden chairs.

As with other Italian food chains, such as Romano's Macaroni Grill, the flames and bustle of Carino's open kitchen are part of the experience.

Diners order food in "solo" portions or "grandioso" platters passed around family style. The moderately priced chain also serves alcohol.

Carino's, based in Texas, recently broke into Florida with restaurants in Sarasota, Spring Hill and St. Augustine.

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