Drive west on Stickney Point Road from Route 41 (Tamiami Trail) to Midnight Pass and Siesta Key and one of the first things you will notice, I guarantee it, is the absolutely full parking lot on the left side or road where Carrabba's Italian Grill, a pet store and Peltz' shoe store are located. It didn't take me long to realize that Carrabba's attracts most of the traffic, that it is one of the most popular restaurants for visiting tourists. Why? Because the owners, Damian Mandola and Johnny Carraba, are two Sicilian boys from Texas who love to cook and eat. The menu is filled with Sicilian food that their parents and grandparents cooked. And they have tossed in some Western food from Texas and some Creole and Southern food that the family picked up while passing through Louisiana. Damian described his mamma, Grace, as "the greatest cook I ever knew, who not only taught me the basics of cooking, but also the importance of having family gather at the table." Dining at Carrabba's is like having a home-made meal. Hey, mom, how's the spaghetti and meat balls? It's good food at reasonable prices and plenty of it. The menu is extensive. If something is missing, it hasn't been invented yet. We always start with bruschetta, of course, and Carrabba's version is one of the best. Other popular appetizers are classic calamari and a new creation, arancini, crispy bites of risotto, Italian fennel sausage, red bell peppers and romano cheese, hand-breaded and served with house-made marinara sauce. Try the Chicken Bryan and Prosciutto-wrapped Pork Tenderloin or the classic lasagna and Pollo La Scala, fresh pasta layered with home-made pomodoro sauce, bolognese meat sauce and Italian cheeses. Other favorites include veal marsala, tilapia nocciola, wood-grilled salmon, lobster ravioli, spaghetti (how can you pass up an old standard?) and a new shrimp dish, shrimp and scallop linguine alla vodka. It's easy to see why Carrabba's is so popular.
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