Quick Bites: Real Food On The Run

Readers have been emailing about one of the newest eateries in town, McAlister’s Deli, founded in 1989 by a dentist and his two sons.

Betty Kossick writes, “We’ve found food on the go that isn’t junk stuff, but real food.” McAlister’s menu is designed around food that is not cooked on stoves or in fryers, but heated by steam or a press.

Located in Berkshire Oaks Shopping Center off SR200, the deli has quickly become a favorite for many. Shane Irving, director of operations, oversees seven locations from Tampa to Alabama and has been with the company since 1999.

On my visit with a guest, Irving suggested the Basil Parmesan Chicken Panini with basil Parmesan sauce, roasted red peppers, and warm provolone cheese on sourdough bread. We also sampled The New Yorker with corned beef, spicy pastrami, and Swiss on toasted rye bread. The baked potato (seven to choose from) is huge and could be a meal unto itself. The Basil Parmesan Chicken is a must to try on the salad menu, and any order can be custom-made to please your palate.

The atmosphere is warm and inviting with pendant lighting, stained crown molding, and soft jazz background music. The sage-colored walls are adorned with local artwork.

Other items not to miss are McAlister’s famous sweet tea, pizza flats, the most awesome macaroni and cheese, and of course, its brownies and cookies. The Ocala menu can be downloaded from mcalistersdeli.com and the phone is (352) 690-7783.

Italian food lovers will be happy to know that Bella Cucina is now open for lunch and dinner inside Oak Run off of SR200. Open to the public, just drive in and tell the gate attendant you’re there to dine.

Art Wile, an executive chef from New York, brought his recipes to Florida and shared them with his nephew, Justin LoFaro, who does most of the cooking. Wile is now the general manager of food, beverage, and golf. His wife, Susan, is the manager.

My evening with friends started out with delicious, warm breadsticks that were crispy on the outside and soft in the center. All agreed they surpassed other local breadsticks in both taste and texture. Our appetizer sampling included tender calamari, Vongola Origanate (fresh clams baked with red pepper, onion, garlic, and oregano), fried ravioli, and fried zucchini breaded with romano cheese.

For our entreés, we dined on gourmet Chicken Pesto Pizza and home-style manicotti overflowing with a thick cheese filling. All temperatures were very pleasing from the ice-cold wine to the hot items.

For dessert, LoFaro made our cannoli filling from scratch and filled them to order so that the shell was crispy. Our server, Sue Ramunno, did an excellent job of keeping our beverages full and clearing the table when needed. Call Bella Cucina at (352) 237-0331 for a faxed menu and you’ll be impressed by the many traditional Italian favorites.

Nibbles:Richard’s Place is now open for dinner on Friday nights, featuring three entreés to choose from for one price, including a drink. Kajun Kuntry Po-Boys has opened on Silver Springs Boulevard next to the Ritz Historic Inn. More on both of these restaurants in the next issue. Primary Oven on Broadway is now open on Saturdays, 10am-2pm, featuring lunch, lattes, and pastries. Flipside Café on SR200 by the old Barnes & Noble has closed after a short tenure.

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