You know, working with the public every day gives me a lot of feedback and suggestions about this column, such as places to go and things to try while I'm eating at the various restaurants in the area.
The other day, while I was making a couple dozen oysters Rockefeller for a fella' at Tiki Tim's, he suggested Vergina at The Esplanade Shoppes. I hadn't been there in about a year, so I stopped in last Tuesday for dinner.
They have a young aggressive kid as a manager (I say kid because at my age anyone under 40 is a kid) named John Folger.
Folger is no stranger to the restaurant scene on Marco. He has been coming here from Los Angeles to visit his grandparents for many years. And now he lives here.
Folger explained to me that Vergina had a slow start when it first opened because of staffing problems. There are so many restaurants on Marco, it's difficult to find enough talented help who isn't already working? But Folger has now filled with restaurant with quality employees.
Vergina not only has a chef, it has two. Chefs Zoran Glavan and Sandro Durante possess many credentials and a wide variety of hotel and restaurant experience.
Jody Janides is the bar manager and has been around the Marco restaurant frenzy for years. They have every cocktail, cordial and concoction you can think of, along with an award-winning wine selection. Folger has also improved the service with the addition of some talented servers. Folgers has dedicated himself to making your dining experience at Vergina a pleasant one.
For dinner at Vergina, I started with a refreshing beefsteak tomato salad with gorgonzola and feta cheeses, drizzled with white truffle oil and a wisp of honey ($8.95). It was outstanding. And the flavors were well balanced. I sopped up the salad's dressing with one of Vergina's crusty, Italian hard rolls, which was served with garlic-infused olive oil for dipping.
The menu is made up entirely of Italian dishes. There are about eighty selections of salads, pasta, fish, beef, veal, chicken and lamb.
As a rule, I tend to shy away from ordering pasta when I go out. Don't get me wrong, I love pasta because it's fast and easy to make, but I like to order things that I can't easily cook at home. Most of the time, you go to a good restaurant for the things you can't, or don't, cook at home.
As an entrée, I chose the veal ossobuco ($26.95). I love ossobuco. For those not familiar with it, it is a braised veal shank. Braising is a basic cooking method where you brown your meat on all sides, then finish it with stock and bake it in the oven.
For dessert, I had Italian ricotta cake that seemed to be a cross between pound cake and cheesecake. It was topped with rum-soaked raisins and toasted pine nuts. The presentation was beautiful and it was delicious. So, if you have not been to Vergina lately give it a try. Folger and his staff are making it better than ever, and you can eat outside on the water or in the nicely appointed dining area.
Vergina at The Esplanade Shoppe's is at 760 N. Collier Blvd., 34145. For reservations, call 394-9822.
• Here's how I make veal ossobuco at home:
I take nice, thick veal shanks about four inches across, dredge them in seasoned flour and brown them on all sides.
I put the shanks in a pan and toss them with fresh chopped tomatoes and carrots, and diced onions and celery. Then, I add a quality beef stock about half way up the pan, cover it up and and bake until the meat is almost falling off the bone.
After it has cooked long enough, I take out the shanks and tent them with foil. Then I make a gremolata, which is chopped parsley, garlic, lemon rind and sometimes anchovies.
I take about one half of the sauce and puree it in a blender, then adjust the seasoning. After I plate the veal I pour the pureed sauce on the shanks, and splash the reserved chunky sauce on top — garnishing the dish with the gremolata.
I have also been known to top it with toasted seasoned pine nuts for a little crunch. Most people serve it with rice, but I like it with homemade spatzel.