While down in Orlando for a trade show earlier this year, I was in the mood for Italian and John wanted a steak. We compromised and asked the concierge at the hotel where a good Italian steakhouse would be in the area. She suggested a place called Stefano's Grill near the Restaurant Row area of Orlando in the Marketplace at Dr. Phillips shopping and entertainment complex. (see map) It was a 15 minute drive from our hotel to Stefano's Grill.
Stefano Tedeschi grew up in Pittsburgh, a huge Pittsburgh Steelers fan and the son of a pizza shop owner. He worked in his family's pizza joint until he graduated from high school, then he joined the Marines. After his stint was over, he decided that he wanted to get back into the restaurant business, but on a level higher than just making pizza.
He traveled to Italy to study under some of the top chefs in that country. He was in Italy for a number of years working in restaurants honing his skills in the kitchen. In the mid-90's, Tedeschi was named a member of L’Order International des Disciples d’Auguste Escoffier, an organization located in Nice, France that was named in honor of the French Chef Georges Auguste Escoffier. Auguste Escoffier was a late 19th/early 20th century chef and culinary writer who popularized French cooking, updating many traditional recipes for more modern tastes of the day. Tedeschi was the first American to be named as a member of the organization which promotes culinary excellence.
Stefano Tedeschi eventually moved back to the Pittsburgh area and his life became somewhat of a whirlwind. He developed a local cooking show that was seen in Pittsburgh (his production company - Stuffed Pepper Entertainment - unsuccessfully tried to get it picked up by The Food Network) and he became known to thousands as "Chef Steff". In the meantime, he was involved with the venerable Cross Keys Inn, a Pittsburgh dining institution. He then went on to open Stefano's Ristorante in O'Hara Township northeast of downtown Pittsburgh.
It was when he was running Stefano's Ristorante, a number of Pittsburgh Steelers would come into his restaurant. He came up with the idea of a new cooking show called "Food and Football" that was produced by a local Pittsburgh station and shown on some stations that formed the old United Paramount Network (UPN). It featured a number of football players with a focus on nutritional offerings with the athlete in mind, as well as fun recipes for the family. Chef Steff suddenly became "The Sports Chef" and was featured on Sunday NFL Countdown on ESPN, The Best Damn Sports Show Period that ran for 8 years on Fox, and also on Food Finds which ran for 7 seasons on The Food Network Stefano Tedeschi was soon rubbing elbows with the likes of celebrities such as Elle MacPherson, the late James Gandolfini, Kevin Pollak and Jay Mohr, as well as with sports figures such as Bill Cowher, Ben Rothlisberger, Marshall Faulk and Larry Fitzgerald.
Tedeschi and his business partner, Patrick Amore, opened a new restaurant - Chef Steff's Ristorante - at the Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills shopping complex on the far northeast side of Pittsburgh. It soon closed in 2007 under some unpleasant dealings with the mall's ownership. Needing a change of scenery, Tedeschi moved to Amore's hometown of Orlando and the two soon opened Stefano's Italian Grill in the Windermere area on the west side of Orlando. In 2011, it was named by the Orlando Sentinal as the best new restaurant in the area.
In late 2014, Stefano's Grill closed in Windermere and moved south into a new location in the Dr. Phillips area of Orlando opening in early 2015. Near the old Stefano's location in Windermere, the Tedeschi's opened Caprino's Italian, a casual Italian restaurant that specializes in pizza and traditional Italian favorites.
The concierge at the hotel had made reservations for us at Stefano's and we were promptly seated when we arrived. The dining area featured a small bar and was elegant in an upscale Italian steakhouse kind of way. After we were given menus, our server for the evening - Joey - came over to greet us. He took our drink orders - I got a Sierra Nevada pale ale to start out, but I got a glass of an Argentinian malbec later on.
The menu at Stefano's Grill features hand cut steaks, fresh seafood, pasta dishes, flat bread's made with imported flour from Italy, and one of the largest gluten free menus in Orlando. I was thinking of getting a salad to start off with and I ordered up the burrata cheese with greens in a balsamic vinaigrette. Burrata is a creamy mozzarella-style cheese where the mozzarella has been formed into a pouch, then a soft-stringy curd and cream are poured in to settle. It has a softer consistency than mozzarella and it was very tasty.
John was in the mood for the house-made Italian sausage appetizer that was topped with grilled onions and sweet red peppers. He gave me a bite of the sausage and it had a great spicy and savory taste to the meat. I remarked that the sausage would have tasted good on a pizza.
When I went into Stefano's Grill, I was in the mood for pasta. But then I got to see the full menu and I suddenly became torn between a couple three items. The Bolognese Rigatoni was calling my name - ground beef in a tomato cream sauce with rigatoni pasta. But then I saw the Lobster Ravioli - chunks of fresh lobster folded into house-made ravioli and served in a creamy tomato basil shrimp sauce. And they had veal osso bucco on the menu that night, as well. Oh, man. I was going in a lot of different directions.
I ended up getting the veal marsala. Our server Joey, who was doing a great job of explaining items on the menu to us and making suggestions along the way, told me that I really should get the veal marsala with the fresh shrimp toppings. He did such a good job of selling it that I couldn't say no.
John ended up getting the 10 ounce bacon-wrapped filet that he ordered medium-rare. It came with what I believe was a horseradish sauce that he slathered across the top. After his first bite, he said, "Oh, boy. This is perfect. This is exactly what I was looking for tonight."
Having gone into the restaurant bent on getting pasta, I couldn't have been more happy with my veal marsala and shrimp. Fresh chopped mushrooms were swimming in the sweet marsala wine sauce with the veal and shrimp. I'd never had shrimp in a marsala sauce before and it turned out that Joey was spot on with his recommendation. The combination of the sweet sauce with the shrimp were heavenly. The veal was tender and very easy to cut with a fork. It was a lot of food and it was very rich. This was an outstanding meal.
After we finished our meals, Joey brought over the dessert menu. I was pretty full from my meal, but John talked me into sharing some cannoli's with him. These were absolutely decadent in their taste. The pastry shells were light and flaky, the cream filling was rich and, well, creamy, and the drizzled chocolate sauce gave the cannoli's a sweet taste. By the time we finished the last cannoli, I was officially stuffed.
I got up to use the restroom and when I got back Mary Tedeschi was at the table talking with John. He gets a kick out of telling restaurants that "a world famous blogger" is dining with them that evening and he was pouring it on thick describing my blog to Mary. She was appreciative that we stopped in and wondered how I liked my meal. I said, "Don't worry. You guys will get a nice write up from me." She was outgoing and effervescent, lingering to talk with us for almost 10 minutes learning more about where we were from, what we were doing in Orlando, how we found Stefano's, etc., etc.
The meal I had at Stefano's was top-notch. The veal marsala with the shrimp was simply outstanding. The burrata cheese and greens salad was a great starter. And even though I was overly stuffed at the end of such a rich meal, the cannoli's that closed out the dinner were a wonderful end to an exquisite meal. My colleague simply loved his steak and he thought the house-made Italian sausage with onions and peppers for an appetizer were very good, as well. The service was outstanding and helpful, the atmosphere was elegant without a bit of pretension, and even talking with Mary Tedeschi was a nice treat after the meal. Stefano's Grill was a great recommendation and one that I would heartily recommend if you're ever in Orlando.