By Erika Webb
For Hometown News
Tiano's Italian Restaurant manager Joseph Vaglica Jr. and server Dylan Murphy keep secrets. Evidently their lives depend on it. Somewhere in New Smyrna Beach is an Italian woman who I'm told will make culinary-secret dispensers disappear. Whatever. I'm just glad she turned them loose in DeLand.
Owner Vittorio Tiano began cooking alongside his father and grandmother in Naples, Italy at 8 years old. He came to the United States five years ago, worked in a New Smyrna Beach restaurant and met Caterina Vaglica. They married and opened Tiano's in New Smyrna Beach. Mrs. Tiano, the one with the secrets, is manager Joseph Vaglica's sister and he said he's very proud of her.
Mr. Tiano whom patrons call "the singing chef from Naples," said both restaurants prepare old family recipes.
"My father and my grandmother taught me everything," he said. "We keep it the same."
Mr. Vaglica said he began rolling dough balls at the age of 7. He said Tiano's soups, dough, bread and sauce are made fresh daily and every dish is made to order. He, too, has worked in his family's restaurants his entire life.
"I cooked with some really good chefs and learned the art of sauté," he said.
Admittedly, I wondered if they would pull off "atmosphere" in a strip mall, but they have, completely. Tiano's is cozy and intimate. Grape-cluster lights accentuate the back wall's wine display. Italian-themed pictures lead one's gaze leisurely around the room. Michael Buble croons "everything will be all right." In this setting, I believe him. Do I have to disclaim he wasn't there in person or can we just pretend?
The menu is vast.
Nineteen tempting appetizers call, "Pick me!" There is only room here for a couple. Tiano's Calamari - sautéed with garlic, olive oil, fresh tomatoes, black olives and capers, served with a touch of marinara sauce, and the Grilled Shrimp - topped with lemon butter, garlic and fresh herbs, served on toasted bread.
From the oven: Pizzas, Calzone, Stromboli, Pepperoni and Spinach Rolls.
A few Secondi (meaning "second dish") options are Veal or Chicken Francese - lightly breaded meat with lemon wine sauce over capellini pasta. Vittorio's Seafood unites shrimp, mussels, clams, and calamari sautéed in marinara or white wine sauce. The Milanese is veal or chicken on a bed of lettuce with lemon slices and capellini pasta. And the family raves about Nona Tiano's Eggplant Parmesan.
Some pasta creations include Rigatoni Carbonara - rigatoni tossed with bacon in a rich egg cream sauce; Gnocchi Pomodoro - fresh tomatoes, basil and mozzarella cheese served with capellini pasta, and the Pasta Combo - grouping traditional favorites including lasagna, ravioli, manicotti and a stuffed shell.
Entrée prices range from $8.50-$18.95.
Choose from 11 hot and cold sandwiches and wraps, soup of the day and house, Greek or chef salads. Lunch specials are $5.99, served 11 a.m. -3 p.m. daily.
The warm bread tempted me to peek around the corner for a glimpse of the artisans who surely were back there kneading. It was deliciously dense with a purpose - to absorb the olive oil herb dipping sauce with a rich wine-vinegar zing unlike I've tasted before. I'm told that ingredient is a secret.
Since I was dining Italia, I naturally decided to have the ... chicken salad sandwich. I simply have no natural defense against chicken salad and Tiano's serves the best I've ever tasted. Large chunks of fresh, tender chicken blanketed in the creamiest mayonnaise on thick freshly-baked bread with a hint of tanginess -another guarded secret which added a unique signature to one of my favorites.
I had a slice of pizza instead of fries. The crust: warm, light, not at all the chew-'til-your-jaw-hurts kind. This was crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.
This partial Sicilian knows two things - revenge and good sauce. Tiano's sauce is great - the absolute essence of the tomato with a texture so light and smooth I could fathom drinking it. Really.
My companion thoroughly enjoyed the pasta combo. I had a taste or four. My editor forbids descriptions like "satiny ribbons of ... " but oh, the pasta - grade A-plus for al dente. The merged textures and flavors of the pasta, meat, sauce and cheeses became art on a fork.
Mr. Murphy took service to a new level. He takes pride in this place. He said he feels like part of the family, and it shows.
Regrettably, there wasn't room for Tiramisu, Cannoli, Cheesecake or Spumoni. Next time ... and next and next, because I am certain Tiano's is here to stay.
Tiano's Italian Restaurant is located at 243 E. International Speedway Blvd. in the Northgate (Publix) Shopping Center. Hours are 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. For information or free delivery, call (386) 736-0707.