Girls' Night Out: Carrabba's Italian Grill, Port Charlotte, Florida

Last week my friend LB and I ventured over to Carrabba's Italian Grill on Tamiami Trail in Port Charlotte after work for girls' night out. Good company complemented with good food and drink makes a most excellent evening.

It's been a while since I've visited a Carrabba's and I had forgotten the cozy, friendly atmosphere. Walking in from the parking lot, the aroma from the wood burning oven hugged me and my taste buds were ready for something good.

It was Wine Wednesday, the promo only Florida Carrabba's restaurants ran for the month of July. Ten dollars off a bottle of wine - can't beat that! And, if you couldn't drink the bottle, Carrabba's staff corks it up to go. Despite being Wine Wednesday, I selected a refreshingly sweet and slightly spicy glass of sangria ($6). I LOVE sangria and savored every drop of it.

Where to Begin
LB and I started our meal with the tender and garlic shrimp scampi ($10). It's accompanied by slightly crusty bread topped with cheese and garlic. We drenched the bread in the butter-garlic sauce. Something this sinfully delicious can't be good for you but it tastes oh-so-heavenly that it's worth the indulgence.

We took our time and the Carrabba's waitress was really patient with us. It's summer and although busy, there wasn't a line waiting to get in (until we left) so we could sit and enjoy the atmosphere.

It was fun to see the chefs working in the exhibition kitchen and preparing the food fresh. It's nice knowing the food hasn't been sitting in some freezer for months.

Main Course, A Crowd Pleaser
For the main course, it was hard for me to choose. The Carrabba's menu isn't typical Italian but influenced by the Sicilian heritage and Southern upbringing of Johnny Carrabba and Damian Mandola, the restaurant founders (yup, those guys in the TV commercials). I decided on a tilapia entrée off the daily special menu. It was described as being lightly breaded then grilled and topped with artichoke hearts, sun dried tomatoes in lemon butter accented with fresh basil. Doesn't that sound delish?

Turns out the special was a real crowd pleaser, it was sold out!

No worries, plenty of tasty other entrées to choose from so I selected the Eggplant Parmesan. I'm a big fan of Eggplant Parmesan ($14) and this dish exceeded my expectations. The eggplant slices were lightly coated with a breading and layered with fresh basil, gooey mozzarella and romano cheese and baked with pomodoro sauce (tomato sauce). Yum!

It was so tender I didn't need a knife to slice through the eggplant. A side of pasta accompanied it and was the perfect combination. The portion was huge and half of it ended up being my lunch the next day. The entrée came with a choice of homemade soup, House, Italian or Caesar salad - I chose the Italian (you know, when in Rome!).

Wait 'til You Hear About Dessert
The entire meal was delicious but the dessert finale was spectacular. It's actually very clever of Carrabba's to offer this. You know how after a filling meal you want dessert but just don't have room? Or perhaps feel it would be a waste to order a full-size dessert?

Carrabba's now has mini desserts on the menu. Not only are they adorable in their little glasses but just the right portion (about 3 bites) at the right price, just $2.50! (Add a $1 to take it home in the glass.) What an absolutely brilliant idea!

I had the pistachio cannoli (a very Sicilian dessert); the other five choices were...well...I can't remember but look at the photo to see the chocolate, nuts, berries and creamy goodness. What a fab way to end the evening!

Carrabba's Italian Grill: It's All About Food & Value
I wouldn't say Carrabba's Italian Grill is casual, you can dress casual there but it's a great place to go for a special dinner. Whether it's date night or girls' night out or just because, you won't be disappointed with the meal, service or final tab (Our bill came to $54, which included an appetizer, an alcoholic beverage, entrée and dessert each). Most importantly, you won't feel guilty about the tab because Carrabba's is about the entire experience at affordable prices.

Carrabba's Italian Grill
1811 North Tamiami Trail
Port Charlotte, FL 33948
Tel: (941) 743-5299

Open Sundays: Noon to 9 p.m.
Mondays through Thursdays: 4 to 10 p.m.
Fridays and Saturdays: 4 - 11 p.m.

Need to find a Carrabba's Italian Grill near you? Visit the restaurant's Web site.