Quick Bites: Ciao, Clermont

A taste of Italy has come to Clermont, and R & G’s Italian Bakery and Deli’s owners are already feeling growing pains just a few months after their grand opening. Gia and Chef Rob, as they prefer to be known, are building a clientele faster than can be seated, which is why the two have started expanding into an adjacent unit. Located in a small plaza across from Clermont’s brick fire house on Hwy. 50, R & G’s calls to mind—and palate—the kind of food you’d expect in New York.

Chef Rob, who has accumulated most of his culinary experience in the boot-shaped country, bakes all the sweets and oversees imported ones such as my favorite—moist rainbow cookies with chocolate icing, full of almond flavor, and layered with raspberry jam. Other familiar pastries are cannolis; Napoleons; zeppoles, a fried donut made with ricotta cheese; sfogliatelle, a crispy shell of many layers stuffed with baked ricotta cream and pieces of candied fruit inside; pignoli cookies, sweet, made with almond paste, pine nuts, and no flour; and many other confections, handmade and baked on the premises. The tiramisu has a tantalizing hint of real liquor. Specialty decorated cakes are available to order, too.

Gia is constantly busy whipping up stuffed sandwiches, pizza, made-from-scratch meatballs, soups, and pasta dishes.

“I got a little sauce in my blood,” she says of the many years she’s worked in the restaurant business, starting at age 10 with her grandfather. “I can’t thank you enough for this interview,” she adds, choking up. “My grandfather would be so proud to see how far I’ve come.”

Other family members help run the business, including her dad who everyone affectionately calls “Big Guy.” And speaking of sauce, that’s her grandfather’s own special recipe. Gia is also proud that the dough for the bread and pizza is always made on premises and never frozen, and every eggplant, veal, and chicken parmesan dish is hand-breaded.

Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, seven days a week, this place is definitely worth the visit. Call for a faxed menu at (352) 404-6918.

Another eatery that features Italian and is new to Clermont is D’amato’s. Also on Hwy. 50, just north of the 27 overpass, it’s located in an old Methodist church. An Italian restaurant already, D’amato’s was bought by Tony Riccardo and Tom Altro who subsequently renamed it.

“We named it after a friend, Cus D’Amato, who took me under his wing about 15 years ago,” Riccardo explains. Jerry D’Amato was a boxing manager and trainer who helped the careers of famous boxers, including Mike Tyson.

In his unmistakable Bronx accent, sounding like someone out of The Godfather, Riccardo talks proudly of the restaurant.

“We’ve put in a full bar, have seating for about 180 people, make our own sausage and mozzarella, have live entertainment weekly, and serve food that speaks for itself,” he says. “What else would you like to know?”

I’d like to know when my schedule will allow me to come back and sample more of the awesome desserts I saw in the dessert case!

D’Amato’s is open seven days, and Riccardo or Altro can be found regularly walking around the dining area, making sure their patrons are more than satisfied. They can be reached at (352) 242-2422.

Nibbles: In the next issue, more about the opening of two new Villages eateries—Cody’s Original Roadhouse Grill in Sumter Landing and Gator’s Dockside, a casual, sports-themed restaurant known for its grilled wings with special sauces, in Spanish Springs.

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