Nero's offers a dependable neighborhood dining experience


Published: Thursday, September 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 31, 2005 at 10:51 p.m.

Facts

Nero's Italian Restaurant

5240 NW 34th St. (372-7430) HOURS: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday
FOOD: Italian-American ATMOSPHERE: Family friendly SERVICE: Good LIBATIONS: Beer and wine

Nero's is the sort of place one usually finds in a bigger city.
It's a neighborhood ethnic restaurant, and that's something relatively unusual in a place the size of Gainesville. For the most part, we don't have "neighborhoods," at least in the sense that larger cities have them.
Here, we have a lot more destination restaurants. Most of them may not seem like "destinations" because they're everyday, garden variety, dining spots. A whole lot of them are chains. A few are locally owned and operated, but in general, they are places people drive to when they're hungry for that kind of food.
I drive to Nero's. It's way the heck up on NW 34th Street and 52nd Avenue, which is way across town for me now, but there was a time when it was my neighborhood Italian restaurant, and it was a place I'd drop in for lunch or dinner on the spur of the moment.
I keep going back because it's dependable. I've eaten there 20, 30 maybe 50 times, and I've never had a bad meal.
In the interest of full disclosure, though, I have to tell you that I've never had a spectacular meal at Nero's either. There have been a lot of good ones, a few mediocre ones and an occasional flash of brilliance.
A lot of Nero's regulars swear by the pizzas, which are commendable ($5.75-$18.25). A lot of customers tout the baked subs, such as meatball, eggplant or chicken parmigiana (around $7). Yet another group will tell you the spaghetti, $7.25 and all-you-can-eat on Wednesdays, is stellar, especially with Nero's very decent meatballs. But not me.
I go for the specialty pastas. Among my favorites is Shrimp Aurellia, medium shrimp sautéed with artichoke hearts, fresh tomatoes and basil and a delicate white wine sauce over linguini ($11.50). Another is Chicken Rosé, chunks of chicken breast with spinach in a rich Alfredo sauce spiked with tomato ($10.20). Penne Chicken Limon, chicken over penne in lemon sauce, is yet another favorite ($10.75).
The only thing I steer clear of is the Italian sausage. It has no pizzazz.
If you dine a bit early, you can take advantage of Nero's Sunset Menu, which is available well before sunset, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. An even dozen of Nero's dishes are available in slightly smaller portions at reduced prices, $6.25 to $7.75. A lot of families with younger children take advantage of the Sunset Menu.
A favorite among those early-bird dishes is Vegetariano Caprese, portobellos, asparagus, roasted red bell peppers and pea pods sautéed with garlic and a balsamic-laced tomato sauce over angel hair. It's a steal at $7.75, and the leftovers are great the next day.
Before you dine, treat yourself to one of Nero's little flashes of brilliance: the bruschetta.
Frankly, there aren't a lot of dishes any simpler than bruschetta. It's just toast with stuff on it, and the stuff usually includes tomatoes.
Nero's version is four slices of Italian bread heaped with chopped tomatoes marinated in olive oil, balsamic vinegar and basil and topped with fresh, coarsely grated romano cheese. The bread is lightly toasted compared with most bruschetta, which means you'll probably want to use a fork to eat it. Don't let that deter you ($5.70).
David Carlson has been writing about food and wine for more than 15 years. Contact him at dave@carlsonfamily net. Dining is done anonymously, and all meals are paid for by The Gainesville Sun.

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