Italian flavor spices up town of Trenton


Petrello's Italian restaurant in Trenton is housed is the Old Boarding House.

DAVE CARLSON/Special to The Sun
Published: Thursday, January 17, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 16, 2008 at 12:00 a.m.

Petrello's is an Italian restaurant housed in the Old Boarding House in Trenton. It bills itself as a "taste of Italy in the country."

Facts

Petrello's Italian Restaurant

Location: 115 W. First St., Trenton (463-8494)

Hours: 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5-9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Food: Italian

Service: Acceptable

Libations: Full bar, poor wine selection

Atmosphere: Historic boarding house, nice porch

I'd say that's accurate.

It certainly serves the best Italian food I've come across in Trenton. In fact, it serves the best Italian food I've found west of Gainesville and east of Steinhatchee.

If that sounds like it's not saying much, forgive me because I'm not sure that's entirely fair.

Petrello's is a fine "touch of Italy in the country," and any time I'm in the vicinity at mealtime, I'm there. You can bet on that. But for me, it doesn't stand up to the touches of Italy that are available in the city.

Again, I'm not sure that's fair.

I am fortunate enough to travel around a bit and occasionally eat at some of the finer restaurants this planet has to offer. I also am fortunate enough to get paid to write about dining.

Is it fair for me to hold Gainesville's restaurants to the same standards I expect in Atlanta? Is it fair for me to hold Atlanta's restaurants to New York City standards? Is it fair for me to hold New York's restaurants to London or Paris standards? And, is it fair for me to hold Trenton's restaurants to Gainesville standards?

I think not.

Here's an example:

Momma's Eggplant Parmesan at Petrello's is as good as any I've had anywhere ($14). It's almost like eggplant lasagna without the pasta. Slices of eggplant are lightly breaded, layered with three cheeses, baked and served with a side of spaghetti and marinara. It was so much better than the average, over-breaded "Eggplant Parmesan" that comparison is silly.

But on the same visit, Petrello's offered an appetizer of Baked Oysters on the Half Shell, fresh oysters topped with mozzarella cheese and garnished with fresh spinach. The oysters were perfectly cooked but very imperfectly prepared. They were so full of sand that it was more like eating sandpaper than like eating oysters. And when they were served - no utensils in sight - our server told her helper to "go get those little forks."

The rest of our meals at Petrello's exhibited the same sort of highs and lows.

There was the house's signature dish, Rotini Petrello, which is billed as "sautéed chicken breast with sundried tomatoes and simmered in a caramelized onion, balsamic, demi glace, tossed with rotini pasta topped with nut-crusted goat cheese" ($15.50).

It sounds interesting, and the server called it a "great choice," but it was just sweet. There was no subtlety, even when goat cheese was part of the bite.

At the opposite end of the scale was Shrimp Scampi (listed on the menu as "Scrimp Shampi") ($17.50). My dinner companion who ordered it was not very impressed. She thought it bland, but I thought it fantastic - understated but delicious. Nice, big shrimp were sautéed in a butter/white wine sauce and served over penne pasta mixed with a little fresh spinach. Yes, it needed some salt and some Parmesan, but those two put it over the top.

Salads at Petrello's are good. The Italian Chef Salad ($8) is an amazing amalgamation of meats, cheeses, olives and vegetables over lettuce and topped with red-wine vinaigrette. Even the house salad, while not generous in size, is tasty with its two slices of cucumber and a few chopped tomatoes. But when they offer black pepper and Parmesan, they bring shakers, one of ground pepper and one of grated Parmesan.

Entrees are served with a nice loaf of warm bread accompanied by one of those simple but brilliant touches that too few restaurants offer - a head of roasted garlic. One clove spread like butter over a slice of the crusty bread is a tiny taste of heaven.

For dessert, go for Chocolate Cheesecake, if it's available or Blackberry Cobbler ($6).

Petrello's is operated by brothers Mikee and Paul Petrello, two of eight boys from a family of professional chefs. Mikee's wife Michelle is from Trenton, and they discovered the location while visiting Michelle's family. The building, Trenton's Olde Boarding House, used to be a seafood buffet.

Petrello's is just off State Road 26 in Chiefland, about 25 minutes west of Gainesville.

David Carlson has been writing about food and wine for more than 15 years. He can be reached at dave@carlson

family.net. Dining is done anonymously and without advance notice. All meals are paid for by the Gainesville Sun.

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