By Dawn Krebs
PORT ST. LUCIE -- I found another hidden jewel among the wonderful restaurants in Port St. Lucie.
This little gem, Flamingo Hometown Café, looks unassuming, but inside it delivers on big taste without taking a big hit to your wallet.
My dining companion and I ventured out on a Friday evening for dinner at the restaurant, tucked away at the corner of U.S. 1 and Prima Vista Boulevard.
We decided on dinner for this café because although it has been serving breakfast and lunch since it opened in July 2012, it recently debuted the Flamingo Room, a fine-dining area that while available for private parties, was open for dinner on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings.
As soon as we walked in, we were greeted by a number of friendly staff. We were quickly seated in the Flamingo Room, which boasts tablecloths, linen napkins and a relaxing atmosphere.
"We wanted to give people a personal touch," said Paul Rodriguez, who co-owns the restaurant with Johnny DiBello.
Part of that personal touch extends to the chefs who create the meals on a daily basis. Executive Chef Donald Epley has teamed up once again with his wife, Valerie. This time, they have extended their talents, bringing on board their son and sous chef, Donaven Epley.
The trio plans the menus, creates the meals and presents their talents plate by plate. The large variety of dinners at the restaurant will have diners struggling to choose which one they want to try first.
We began our meal with an appetizer, mussels Leonardo. We were quickly brought a full pound of farm-raised blue mussels sautéed in a garlic white wine butter sauce and covered with fresh basil, tomatoes and garlic.
The dish smelled heavenly and the mussels were perfectly cooked. There was plenty of sauce left over for me to dip my warm bread into.
On our next visit, we agreed we will sample either the baked Brie or the middleneck clams as an appetizer choice. But there's still an entire page of menu items to choose from, so we might change our minds.
For dinner, I ordered the chicken Mediterranean with a jalapeno and cheddar corn chowder. My companion chose the seafood casserole with the New England clam chowder to start.
When our soups arrived, I couldn't help but try both. The clam chowder was hearty, with large chunks of potatoes and clams, while my corn chowder had a wonderful spicy kick that didn't overwhelm the soup, but instead built up gradual heat.
When the dinners arrived, I briefly wondered how I could possibly eat that much food in one sitting.
The chicken dish held large chunks of chicken with onions, mushrooms, sundried tomatoes, artichokes and olives all sautéed in a garlic white wine sauce nestled on a bed of angel hair pasta.
The variety of all the different flavors came together with the sauce, and the angel hair pasta was the perfect compliment to the complexity of the dish.
The seafood casserole arrived bubbling in a large boat-like dish, and it was almost overflowing with all that it held. There were large pieces of shrimp, scallops, crab and clams sautéed in a Fontina cheddar cheese sauce, then tossed with penne pasta and baked with panko bread crumbs.
I found that the chefs had balanced the flavors perfectly between the tender chunks of seafood and the carefully cut pasta.
But I'm only scratching the surface of the restaurant's dinner menu, which offered selections of seafood, chicken and steak, from prime rib to sweet chili Thai scallops to filet medallions with a choice of an onion and mushroom topping or seasoned crab and fresh asparagus topping.
How I found room for dessert I'll never know, but a slice of the berry cheesecake cobbler was the perfect ending to a wonderful meal.
Which is exactly how Mr. Rodriguez wants it.
"If you give the customers a good meal at a good price, they're going to be happy," he said. "And that's what I want to do -- make them happy."
Since the restaurant has been open, Mr. Rodriguez says he's met a lot of very nice people who have become regulars.
"It's the most rewarding thing about being here," he said.
Future plans for the restaurant include putting up a wall of photos of the many veterans who dine there. They are also currently accepting reservations for New Year's Eve.
As for the secret to his success, he gives all the credit to his staff.
"The most important thing is the people that work here," he said. "This place wouldn't be what it is without them."
Flamingo Hometown Café is located at 899 Prima Vista Blvd. in Port St. Lucie. It is open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday, and from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. The Flamingo room is available for private parties. Gift cards are available. For more information, call (772) 249-5243.