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Ciccio’s is your neighborhood go-to place

Oh no. I think I just used a Rachael Ray-ism in my headline. A food writer friend of mine is smiling right now because of a conversation we had about our society being infected by these catchy sayings, but it’s true. Ciccio’s is close to my home and the menu is just varied enough to satisfy most cravings for those who don’t feel like cooking on any given night. No, they don’t serve stoup.

The restaurant is located in the Publix Plaza on 38th Ave. N in St. Petersburg. There is some outside seating where I generally see several people gathering after work to wind down the day. The inside has an unassuming So-Ho Tampa kind of feel, with a dark wood bar area, matching booths and a couple of tables here and there.
At first look the menu might seem a little scattered and large, but if you think of it in terms of California cuisine and the dishes that are popular in that genre, it really makes sense. Salads that are complete enough to be main courses, a selection of sliders, quesadillas, wraps, bowls, stir-frys, pasta and pizza round out the menu.
On my first visit, I went because I had a pasta craving. By the time I could go to the store and cook it would have been late and the family was hungry. So, I ordered the Roasted Eggplant and Garlic Soup ($3.95) which is on the July specials menu (yes, there’s even MORE food), the Penne Four Cheese Pomodoro ($9.95) and the Penne Pasta on the Kid’s Menu ($5.95) which comes with a drink.
I’ll be honest. I’m not a huge eggplant fan, mostly because I don’t like dealing with all the seeds that end up in most I purchase. I prefer the Japanese eggplant for that reason. However, this soup had that fire-roasted (or grilled) flavor to it, with a hint of garlic and a creamy consistency that was spot-on just from the puree of eggplant in it. I didn’t notice any seeds and it had a little handful of melted cheese on top. I’ll be sad when it is not on the July menu anymore.
The Penne Four Cheese Pomodoro was a little confusing to me. The penne was cooked al dente as it should be, however I didn’t detect any cheese in the dish. The tomato cream sauce had good flavor but there was something odd about the consistency of it. Don’t get me wrong here, it was not bad at all. It was good sauce. It just had sort of an almost powdery background like an extender was used or maybe it was packaged. I don’t know if most people would really notice or not, but I did. My son loved his penne simply dressed with butter.
A wrap and pizza were on the menu for the next visit. The Pacific Wrap ($7.25) was made with Yellowfin tuna (you could get it with Grouper also), black beans, jicama and lettuce. They have a number of dipping sauces to choose from and I selected the Citrus Soy. This is one of those heavily California-inspired items that smacked of freshness with each bite. It would have been even better had it had the jicama in it for the crunch and slight-sweetness it imparts.
The tomato sauce, basil and mozzarella pizza ($9.95) had a perfect crispy-but-chewy crust and the consistency of the cheese was just the right amount of melted goodness. There was still something about the sauce in this entree too, but the flavors were there. The fresh basil on top was the crowning touch, giving it that slightly anise-minty flavor I love about that herb.
To try to touch on some other areas of the menu, on my third visit I ordered the Sirloin Burger Sliders ($2.75). While I think all the prices at Ciccio’s are very reasonable, this one is ridiculously inexpensive. The sliders are about half the size of a standard burger and they give you two of them. For $.25 more you can put cheese on it. I knew my son would want these, so I put American cheese on them for him. Before I had a chance to try one of them, it was gone. I took a bite of the other one and it was perfectly seasoned. Between the two sliders, you could make a meal of this dish. Great deal.
The Cheese Quesadilla with Guacamole and Sour Cream ($7.25) was unremarkable but satisfying. The cheese was slightly spicy and the guacamole had good texture to it. It contained some onions, which I don’t usually see in guac made here, but do see often in Cali. The Spinach Goat Cheese and Sundried Tomato Quesadilla ($8.95) was much more interesting and I didn’t feel guilty eating it. Lots of fresh spinach, a little spread of goat cheese and the sun-dried tomato made for a great combo. The flavors worked well together highlighting more of that fresh California cooking.
Stir-fry was the last dish I tried. The Coconut Curry with its chicken, stir-fry veggies (of peppers), mushrooms, coconut and curry packed a very slight kick. For some reason I expected red curry and this was green curry. (It doesn’t say which type it will be on the menu.) ¬†This was another tasty but relatively healthful dish with a reasonable price point at ($7.75). For $1 more you could have Udon noodles or rice with it (steamed yellow or brown rice). I opted for the noodles, and while they were perfectly cooked and tossed in a salty, sweet dressing, I would not recommend it with the curry. The flavors just didn’t mesh well. Both on their own were very good.
The next time you are on your way home and passing through Northeast St. Pete, I’d recommend giving Ciccio’s a try. The prices can’t be beat for the amount of food you receive and for the most part, the dishes were very balanced and satisfying. Don’t forget to check out their monthly specials and blue plate specials for even more savings. Ciccio’s is located at 190 37th Avenue NE in St. Petersburg. (727)-898-8226

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