Food – The Pines of Florence in Alexandria

Greg and I realized recently that we don’t talk much about our town. Alexandria, Virginia, is an amazing place to live. There’s always something going on; it’s a short metro ride from Washington, DC; it’s incredibly walkable; it’s loaded with history; there’s fun, eclectic shopping; and best of all, there are restaurants EVERYWHERE.  So we’re making an effort to get to more of the restaurants that we usually just walk right past. We live here, we should put a little more effort into eating here … and at more than just one or two favorites.

We actually started a couple of weeks ago. Friday was new restaurant #2. (No, I’m not going to keep count – ha). After a relatively short day at work, we hopped off the metro at King Street and wandered down to The Pines of Florence. This restaurant has been around a long time, judging by the well-maintained, but obviously been-there-forever sign out front and the equally well-maintained-but-old decor inside. There’s nothing shiny or flashy about this place. You get good, clean, comfy, cozy atmosphere as you are surrounded by a staff that is not only friendly, but makes you feel like you’re among family the entire time. They are not related – we overheard a waitress tell the couple seated behind us, “no, he’s not my father” when asked if the gentleman who was obviously in charge was her dad – but you’d never know it.

Menus arrived with a delightful, not pushy, but charmingly suggestive recommendation that we take a peek at the specials on the back page. We asked if there was any one of the half dozen or more that he recommended. He suggested the chicken and mozzarella. We quickly sized up the wine list and ordered a bottle of Montepulciano D’Abruzzo (our fave), and he nodded approvingly and headed to the bar to get the bottle and give us time with the menu.

By the time he came back (oh so perfect timing), we had chosen an appetizer of mixed fried seafood. He poured the wine and popped off to the kitchen to put in our appy order. Leaving us alone with the wine and menus while he and the others tended to several other diners, we chatted about our day and relaxed. By the time the appy arrived we had decided to split the chicken and mozzarella special he had suggested. (Side note: we almost always split a single entree because we are fortunate to have the same food tastes and they are always too big to be called a “single serving”)

The “frito misto” (mixed fried seafood) was piping hot, perfectly cooked and downright scrumptious. The batter used to coat the mussels, calamari, shrimp and zucchini was light and airy with just the right amount of crunch. A dish of tomato sauce for dipping added a fun splash of flavor. It was a huge pile of seafood and we both agreed it was perfect for sharing.

Our water glasses stayed full as we nibbled and chatted, never feeling rushed or watched. A large group had come in while we were eating and was seated near the back of the restaurant, but we never heard them. The couple behind us were clearly regulars judging from the comments to the staff. Another duo nearby were work colleagues chatting about business but not loudly. We caught an occasional snippet of their conversation.

After a well-timed pause between courses, the chicken and mozzarella arrived. Our waitress put the bowl between us and offered a large spoon to let us divvy up the portions onto the two plates provided. We opted to share the bowl as the table for two was the perfect size to allow it. The ziti in the dish was perfect. There’s nothing worse than overcooked pasta in my mind and this had just the right amount of bite. The two-bite chunks of chicken were tender and juicy, the asparagus was blissfully slightly crunchy, the light coating of sun-dried tomatoes and olive oil added a beautifully sweet tang to the bites and the diced mozzarella (which we immediately stirred into the hot dish to get it melting and gooey) was just right.

If you’re looking for a great, family feeling, home style Italian meal, The Pines of Florence NAILS IT!

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