by Thomas Miller – Food Blogger / Restaurant Critic for Vero Vine and Vero Beach Foodie
For my next Tasting Experience, I head over to the island and to the South Beach area to check out Johnny D’s Market & Bistro! Vero is known for our pristine uncrowded beaches, nearly perfect year-round weather, and a seemingly endless number of Italian restaurants. Google says we have at least 25 different choices in Vero alone, so how does one stand out in this crowded market? Owners, Nina and Mario Amelio, believe their concept of an authentic Italian restaurant has a unique enough twist to make it stand out above the rest.
You may recognize the Amelio name, as it’s associated with several other Italian restaurants in town such as the Pomodoro and Scampi Grill. Their siblings have been working in the restaurant business what seems like their whole lives, thanks in part to their family who has been operating restaurants in the area since the 1970’s. Nina and her other siblings learned everything about the business from working with their father, Joseph Amelio who opened Pomodoro in 1995. He and the restaurant are both still going strong today.
Their location on the island is in an area you would not expect to find a restaurant, as it seems to be tucked into a residential area but makes sense with the market that is attached right next door. They do have their own parking lot with quite a few spaces, but they do tend to fill up during peak times as we noticed throughout the course of the evening while we were there. There is a separate entrance for the market and restaurant, but they are both connected inside, and you can easily pass between them. The market has a delightful selection of prepared foods you can take home and a Deli featuring Duck Deli Meats & Cheeses. They do have a very nice selection of wines to choose from as well. The dining room, albeit somewhat cozy in size, didn’t feel cramped at all. Colorful artwork and wine bottles adorned the burnt orange and mustard yellow walls.
Now let’s dive right in and see what this place has to offer and what I had to eat!
Shrimp Cocktail – ($13.00) – This was not something I was expecting to receive at a review of an Italian restaurant, but after tasting it, I know why it’s one of their top selling items. Six jumbo shrimps were served in a martini glass with their homemade cocktail sauce with a side of lemon wedges. The shrimps must have been U8’s because they were the largest I’ve ever seen served for this type of dish. They were very fresh and the in-house made cocktail sauce was some of the best I’ve ever tasted.
Grilled Chicken Cobb Salad – ($16.00) – Who doesn’t love a large salad as a summertime meal? It’s made with romaine lettuce, red onion, cherry tomatoes, bacon, hard-boiled eggs, and a side of their creamy peppercorn onion and sundried tomato dressings. Everything was beyond fresh with only the best ingredients used. The chicken was freshly grilled, the bacon tasted as if it was made that day, and don’t get me started on their house-made dressings. They were both delicious!
Margarita Pizza – ($16.00) – Now THAT’s a beautiful pie! Everyone seems to have a strong opinion of what their favorite pizza is and how it’s made. Let me tell you, this one ticks all three of my checkboxes when it comes to my personal preferences for pizza. I like them thin, crispy, and lightly baked. The aroma of the freshly baked crust and the fresh ingredients on top when they brought it to our table was intoxicating! One of the best pizza pies I’ve had in a long time.
Eggplant Rollatini – ($16.00) – While eggplant is not one of my favorites ingredients, if you slice it thin, bread it, and fry it, it has to taste good, right? In this case, it tastes really good! It was sliced very thin, breaded, fried, then filled with a ricotta cheese. It was then rolled and topped with marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese, then baked till golden brown. Angel hair pasta with marinara sauce was served alongside. The eggplant was light and crispy on the edges. The filling was rich and creamy. I’ve had a few others around town, but both my wife and I agree, these were some of the best we have tasted.
Chicken Marsala – ($18.00) – Of all the Italian restaurants I’ve reviewed, this is the first time I’ve been served this dish, and I’m glad they did because it’s wonderful! A grilled chicken breast is topped with a mushroom wine sauce and served with a side of Angel hair pasta. The chicken breast was cooked to perfection, still very moist and tender. The marsala sauce was rich and flavorful, and the pasta was cooked al dente.
Lasagna – ($16.00) – It’s hard to beat a classic Italian dish that seems to be everyone’s favorite! The portion size was quite generous. As it bakes, the cheese oozes out the sides and browns a little bit, which to me, are some of the best bites of lasagna because they have the most flavor. The pasta was cooked al dente and had several layers of meat and cheese inside. It was served on top of their house-made marinara which is a little chunky, and full of rich tomato flavor. It was exceptional!
Tiramisu – ($4.95) – A true classic Italian dessert served in a cup. The ladyfingers were soaked in coffee and were still quite moist. The cream filling was sweeter than normal but was the perfect match to balance out the bitterness from the coffee and cocoa powder. It was a wonderful way to round out our evening!
Italian food is one of the Top 5 cuisines that I adore most, so I was really looking forward to this Tasting Experience. As a food critic that eats at a lot of places in town, it’s getting harder and harder to impress me, yet these folks somehow managed to do just that. You can certainly taste the passion that Nina and Mario put into every dish they make. The majority of dishes we tasted tonight are from their summer pre-fixe menu, and at only $16.00 each, they are an incredible value. With summer coming to an end soon, these specials may not last much longer, so I suggest you hurry over and give these guys a try before time runs out, because I know you won’t be disappointed!
Address: 1409 Florida A1A, Vero Beach, FL 32963
Hours: Monday – Saturday, 10:00am – 9:00pm, Closed on Sunday