Pre-entrée, and often rich enough to stand alone, is the Italian “before the meal” first course known as antipasto/antipasti. Fresh cheeses, cured meats and an array of lettuces and pickled veggies tend to comprise the dishes, but every locale has its own take on the Euro starter. If you’re like me, you might forfeit the main meal altogether, opt for the prelude and stop with dessert.
At Filippo’s Italian Pizzeria -- which, I recently learned, has featured a full bar for more than a year -- dig into the Mozzarella Prosciutto antipasti with mixed greens, onions, Greek olives, cured Italian ham and cheese for $7.95. The Traditional Meat version (with capicola, salami, ham, pepperoni and giardiniera) and the Mozzarella Caprese are stellar, too, especially with a cannoli finisher. 6392 N. Lockwood Ridge Road, Sarasota. 360-8065; filippospizza.com.
Try the Treviso Restaurant, inside the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, for its Classic Antipasto: $12 worth of grilled and marinated vegetables, Italian meats, cheeses and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. You’ll want to save stomach space for the Limoncello Crème Brulee with its lemon custard and caramel crust, or the Torta Mango with raspberry and mango sauce. 5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota. 360-7390, trevisorestaurant.com.
Head to St. Armands Circle for a wide-ranging antipasto array at Le Colonne. Expect the Bresaola Arugula and Parmigiano with salted beef, arugula, shaved parmesan, olive oil and lemon; the Melanzane Alla Noce with eggplant in walnut-flavored breading, rolled with basil, parmesan and tomato sauce; and the Mozzarella Bufala Alla Caprese with sliced mozzarella, tomato, olive oil and oregano. 22 S. Boulevard of the Presidents, Sarasota. 388-4348; lecolonnerestaurant.com.
Fav’s Italian Cucina in Bradenton boasts the Caprese Tower -- a pile of fresh mozzarella slices and vine-ripened tomatoes drizzled with pesto, aged balsamic vinegar and olive oil for $6.95. Combine this fresh culinary architecture with the sweet red onion tomato bruschetta, sautéed ravioli and garlic cheese bread. Have room for a glass of house Chianti and a little spumoni? 419 12th St. W., Bradenton. 708-3287; favsitaliancucina.com.
In Port Charlotte, Luigi’s Family Restaurant and Pizzeria is famed for its antipasto salad with lettuce, tomatoes, mushrooms, black olives, hot peppers, ham, salami, capicola, provolone and mozzarella, coated in Luigi’s homemade Italian dressing ($8 for a small, $14 for a large). Stay for the Sicilian and New York-style pizzas, not to mention “seafood Fridays” with fried fish, a salad bar and dessert. 3883 Tamiami Trail, Port Charlotte. 624-3535; luigispizzaswfl.com.