By Dawn Krebs
PORT ST. LUCIE - Tucked away off Becker Road is a restaurant that lets its delicious food speak for itself.
Cornerstone Bistro has just begun its third season in Port St. Lucie, and owner Mark Zollo has updated the menu and is ready to greet old customers and welcome new ones.
"The menu is very welcoming," he said. "We've dropped some of the prices, and kept last year's customer favorites as house specials this season."
The menu isn't the only thing that is welcoming. As I was escorted into the restaurant, the beautiful and relaxing atmosphere enveloped me. Columns of decorative stonework stretch to the ceiling, and music plays softly in the background. I also noticed a room off to one side to accommodate private parties.
The chairs and tables are comfortable and as I sank into a booth, it gave me a feeling of being pampered.
That's exactly how Mr. Zollo wants his diners to feel.
"They're worth it," he said. "We try to bend over backwards and satisfy everyone."
And his wonderful food and professionally trained staff did just that.
I started out with a bowl of asparagus soup, the soup of the day.
It arrived quickly, along with some dinner rolls with butter made in house. The butter had been mixed with some orange marmalade and a touch of honey, and the sweetness added to the warm softness of the rolls.
The soup was creamy, with the perfect flavor of fresh asparagus, that didn't overwhelm. Topped with freshly ground pepper, the smooth texture gave the soup a velvety and flavorful taste.
For dinner I ordered the duck breast a l'orange, a pan-seared duck breast served with a ginger mandarin orange sauce.
While I waited, I was able to watch the chef and his staff cook, as the kitchen is open to the dining room behind some glass panels.
The group worked efficiently, and it was obvious they all enjoyed what they were doing. It wasn't long afterward I had a generous dinner placed in front of me.
The duck came sliced, and was cooked to a perfect medium, exactly what I ordered. Lightly coated in the sweet sauce, it was both very tender and juicy on the inside while having a wonderful crispy skin on the outside. The spices on the duck were a delicious compliment to the sauce.
The duck was served with wild rice, which was light and fluffy, and I could taste the additions of cranberries and roasted nuts. It had a wonderful flavor, and I almost couldn't stop eating it.
The dinner also had a serving of roasted vegetables, and the chef chose squash, carrots and asparagus to round out the plate. Each separate vegetable had been cooked just the right amount of time, having a nice roasted flavor while maintaining a slight crunch.
While I ordered fowl for dinner, I noticed there were several choices to satisfy any craving.
The bistro's seafood choices included lobster in a champagne cream sauce and a pan-seared Chilean sea bass with a lemon caper influence. Other seafood choices included salmon, snapper, grouper and tuna.
The pasta choices included chicken Marsala with wild mushrooms and seafood ala vodka, where lobster, shrimp and scallops are tossed with penne pasta in a creamy vodka sauce.
In addition to the duck, the restaurant also offers chicken prepared a number of unique ways. If you're more of a meat eater, a variety of Black Angus steaks, beef ribs, lamb and veal are on the menu, as well.
I was too full for dessert, but the menu teased me with choices that included crème brulee, bananas fosters crepes, bread pudding and chocolate overload cake.
For those who prefer after-dinner drinks, the bar was fully stocked with Macallam, Johnny Walker Blue and Glenlivet, to name only a few off a long list.
Mr. Zollo is proud of what he offers the residents of Port St. Lucie.
"It's hard work, determination and a great staff," he said. "I have 37 people from Port St. Lucie working for me, so that's 37 families I help take care of."
Some of the ways he offers value to his customers is sunset dining from 5 p.m. 6 p.m. During that time, diners can have a special of a beverage, choice of soup or salad, choice of one of 12 entrees and dessert for 17.95 per person every night of the week.
For the more sophisticated diner, a wine pairing is offered the third Saturday of the month.
"Just come and try us, and see what you can get for your money," he said. "We're here for the people of Port St. Lucie, and we're here for the long term."
The restaurant is holding an open house on Dec. 8 to introduce themselves to the community for the season.
Cornerstone Bistro is located at 848 S.E. Becker Road in Port St. Lucie. It is open from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays and from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Reservations are suggested. Gift cards are available. For more information, call (772) 785-5220.