DINING: Scoozi serves up delicious Southern Italian fare

In the years that we have been dining at the many Vero restaurants of Roger Lenzi, we have enjoyed many fine meals.

Some of his restaurants, like Avanzare, have been wild successes; others have sprung up, blossomed for a short time, then disappeared. But what they all have had in common was creative dishes offered at a reasonable price – and that is certainly true of the curiously named eatery, Scoozi, that Lenzi opened six months ago in the Old Downtown.

While most of the many Italian restaurants in Vero (including Avanzare) have a northern feel and menu, Scoozi is a throwback to the so-called “red sauce” joints that sprung up in every city where you found the Southern Italian immigrants who flocked to America in the last century.

Walking into Scoozi is a bit like being in time warp. With black-and-white photos of the singers of yesteryear lining the entryway walls, the dining room has red-and-white tablecloths, candles on the table, and Sinatra and the Rat Pack providing mealtime musical accompaniment.

On a recent weeknight, our party of four arrived shortly after 7:30, and was ushered to a nice window table looking out on Scoozi’s outdoor dining patio – a festive area reminiscent of the trattorias along Mulberry Street in New York’s Little Italy.

For starters on this evening, we shared an order of fried calamari ($10), and the burrata, fig and speck ($12). The perfectly fried calamari were served with a very tasty tomato dipping sauce, and the creamy burrata – accompanied by fig jam and speck ham – was presented with some housemade rosemary focaccia. A good start.

Then for entrées, I settled on one of the evening’s Sicilian seafood specials, the monkfish puttanesca ($22), my husband went for the fire-grilled swordfish ($24), one of our companions opted for the pork chop Siciliano ($16), and the other picked the linguine and clams ($18).

My monkfish was served over linguine in a tomato-based puttanesca sauce with capers, lots of olives and anchovies. A well-seasoned Southern Italian dish.

My husband’s perfectly grilled swordfish is normally served over artichoke hearts, garlic, caper, olive, chopped tomato and basil sauté, but he asked if they could prepare it in the same manner as the yellow tail snapper. Sure, they responded – and it was delicious atop squid ink linguine with an heirloom tomato sauce.

The linguine and clams was also a nice dish, but the pork chop Siciliano was a thing of beauty – a large herb rubbed pork chop, extremely tender and flavorful, served with lemon garlic spinach and roasted lemon garlic potatoes.

On previous visits, we have tried a variety of appetizers including the Arancini ($10), a crispy Sicilian rice ball stuffed with sausage and fresh mozzarella with Sunday gravy dipping sauce, and the very interesting roasted Brussel sprout salad ($10) with sprouts crisp on the outside, tender on the inside.

For main courses, we also have enjoyed the shrimp oreganato ($20) – shrimp topped with oreganato bread crumbs, baked, and finished with a luscious lemon oregano sauce over sautéed spinach – and orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe ($18).

We concluded our most recent meal with an excellent crème brulee ($6).

Scoozi has a full bar and a good selection of very reasonably priced wines. Not all the dishes here are Sicilian haute cuisine (though we have found the seafood entrées excellent). With a variety of different kinds of parmigiana, and a dozen pasta entrées priced from the mid-teens, many of Scoozi’s dishes are more like “soul food” for Italian Americans.

For a change of pace from the more formal Italian restaurants found in abundance in Vero, this throwback Southern Italian eatery – with good food at decent prices, and a $12.50 summer menu from 5 to 6 nightly — is worth a visit.

I welcome your comments, and encourage you to send feedback to me at tina@verobeach32963.com.

The reviewer dines anonymously at restaurants at the expense of Vero Beach 32963.

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