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Tampa Tribune Review: Food is good and plenty at Stefano Greek Italian Restaurant

There are few restaurants in Temple Terrace that have been around as long as Stefano Greek-Italian Restaurant.

Since 1994, the eatery has been a favorite haunt of locals. It was tucked into a small storefront at Landmark Plaza on 56th Street, which offered limited parking spaces.

Last June, the diner was moved to just south of the plaza to give customers a little more wiggle room. They're now housed in a wooden building, where a Pizza Hut used to be. The interior is nothing fancy, just tables and booths.

But it's Stefano's food — and generous portions — that has made it a Temple Terrace mainstay. Diners never risk leaving hungry here.

The menu offers staples from both sides of the Adriatic Sea and features more than 40 dinner entrees, among them Italian classics such as baked ziti, lasagna and veal and eggplant parmigiana. Also offered are pork chops, steaks, chicken and seafood dishes and several Greek offerings, including Mousaka, dolmades and chicken riganatti, reflecting the heritage of the owner, Josef Binjaku.

We began our meal with an order of Saganaki, Greek pan seared cheese.

As is customary, our server flambéed the dish tableside, which caused our dining companion, a firefighter who had never tried it, to almost reach for a fire extinguisher.

The server easily doused the flames with fresh lemon juice and brought out some pita bread, and we dug in. The crisply quick-fried exterior and melted center was cheesy heaven, and more than enough for two.

The hummus was nothing special, but fans of the grape leaf-wrapped nibbles known as dolmades won't be disappointed with the lemon-tinged, rice-filled version here.

For our entrees, we sampled from the Italian menu, which features no fewer than a dozen dishes. The mound of spaghetti, with hearty meatballs and sausage, was so plentiful that had we finished it we would have forfeited the rest of our meal.

Our companion said he happily would choose this simple and satisfying combo over the more expensive equivalents in many fancier Italian spots.

We also ventured into the seafood side of the menu and tried the salmon rollatini, a special of the day, which featured what tasted like Old-Bay-infused baked salmon filets wrapped around crab meat. The salmon was moist and flavorful, while the crab meat stuffing had very little filler. And what a value! This $14.95 entrée arrived with four nice-sized salmon wheels, which gave us enough for lunch and dinner the following day.

The side order of grilled squash — equally generous — was deliciously seasoned, simple and flavorful, as was the northern bean soup, which tasted slow-simmered and had a lot of white beans in a rich broth with bits of carrots.

The Mousaka — layers of potatoes, eggplant, seasoned meat sauce and cheese, similar to lasagna — also was wonderful.

With the vast selection of salads, including Greek and vegetarian dishes, burgers, soups, sandwiches, subs and Panini's, everyone is bound to find something they like at Stefano.

We tried only one dessert — because we didn't want to explode — and that was the rice pudding, which was velvety and delicious. They also serve baklava and chocolate cake.

Stefano's offers a small number of beers and wines by the glass, and we found the pours to be as generous as the entrees (definitely a plus).

Shout out to Rita Drita, our server, who was friendly and efficient and made us feel like "old regulars."

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Bottom Line: A family-friendly neighborhood eatery that delivers upscale restaurant flavor.

 

You can find the original Review by Cloe Cabrera on TBO.com Featured image credit: Jason Behnken
http://tbo.com/events/food-is-good-and-plenty-at-stefano-343710

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