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The menu is simple but fairly extensive, and though portions are meant for individuals, they're easily family-size. Order the fresh fish française main course -- northern flounder, luckily, not southern snapper -- and you'll get not one but two huge fillets quick-fried in an egg batter and partnered by a gigantic serving of vegetable risotto. Chicken scarpariello, large pieces of on-the-bone poultry sautéed with both hot and sweet sausages and bell and cherry peppers, was also mixed with onions and roasted potato quarters. It's a lot of food.
Same with scaloppini of veal, prepared in any number of ways. We gorged ourselves on the Milanese, breaded and elevated by a pair of sausages and tricolore salade, and still had to take half the dish home. We couldn't finish the veal parmigiana, a tangy, cheesy concoction paired with al dente spaghetti and Rao's famous marinara sauce, either. (You can buy it bottled from specialty stores and mail-order companies, though Pellegrino's makes it fresh.) As for the veal chop Valdostano, its size may seem ridiculously overwhelming at first. But once you taste the chop, trimmed of fat and stuffed with prosciutto and mozzarella, then finished with a Marsala-mushroom sauce, you just might not be able to stop until it's gone.
Still, despite my guilt over the portions (which occurs whether I finish my meal or have to take it with me), this is precisely the kind of Italian food I like: exactingly prepared but without pretensions. And its quality is evident from the start. For example a cold antipasto was presented not just with slices of Italian deli meats but with prosciutto and chunks of crumbly, pungent provolone (not the rubbery stuff you get in your local supermarket). Under the meats and cheese, eggplant caponata and roasted peppers added flavorful, textured counterpoint. Even plain house salads were terrific, the fresh greens dressed with an unobtrusive vinaigrette. In addition the thick, comforting pasta e fagioli could mellow the most determined gangster.
Pastas, however, steal attention even from Tony Bennett, blasting from the jukebox. They vary from ziti with broccoli to linguine with white clam sauce, the latter of which many diners I know consider a benchmark for an Italian restaurant. Pellegrino's clearly passes the test, with a dozen or more tender littlenecks scattered on the top and innumerable fresh clams chopped up in the garlicky sauce. Incidentally, if you do have to take the remains to go, you should know they taste even better the next day, having marinated all night in the fridge.
If your palate runs to the slightly more exotic, listen for specials, which could include spaghetti with jumbo shrimp and arugula or linguine with whole blue crabs. The former was fabulous; the latter, though we tried to order it, was sold out. Our waitress broke the news to us gently: "You've been cured."
"We have? Of what?"
"Of crabs. We're all out."
Despite the best intentions, I can't walk away from Pellegrino's without an order of crème brûlée topped with warm, stewed strawberries. Delectable. Cannolis are just as good, with a crisp shell and a smooth, luscious filling, but I didn't care for the ricotta cheesecake with candied fruit (a personal peeve) or a flavorless rice pudding. Dessert-loving customers might be inspired to purchase a copy of Rao's Cookbook, which is proudly displayed in the eatery.
For the record, my edition of Rao's Cookbook was given to me by a family friend who happens to be a regular at Rao's. She had it signed by the author, Frankie Pellegrino, who wrote the following inscription: "Something tells me you know how to cook." And I do, though no doubt not as well as the Rao and Pellegrino families. And now, with the addition of Pellegrino's to Deerfield Beach, I don't even have to try.