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Fiore is a tall flower in Sandfly
Joyce Shanks pours some wine

7360 Skidaway Rd., Norwood Plaza/ 912-349-2609

I call it the Sandfly Foodie Loop, that quaint circle of restaurants in the little community of Sandfly that sits at the end of Skidaway Road. Places like the Drift-Away Café and Sandfly BBQ hold their own niche, but somewhere in between great American casual dining and a fine family BBQ joint lay a bit of a void.

Where do you go if you want to dress up a little before an evening out? Where do you find that perfect taste of panini when you and a friend want a casual but elegant lunch?

Joyce Shanks and husband Jim, owners of the successful Bella’s on Habersham, wanted to fill that void with something special and started looking around four years ago to see what they could find. When Wright Square Café closed its doors in Sandfly, a perfect venue opened up and they decided to make a go of this much-discussed idea.

The mood of Fiore is quietly elegant, flavored with a touch of European old-world charm. With the warm celadon green walls, vast dark wooden floors and whimsical spots of color from eponymous flower paintings (‘La Fiore’ means ‘flower’ in Italian), the suffused light from the ivory-shaded lamps tempts the casual visitor to come inside.

The tantalizing scent of olive oil, wine sauces and toasted bread brings you further into the dining room and soon you find yourself choosing the perfect place to sit. It’s seductive.

My first experience there was a casual lunch with a friend, and we were charmed and delighted with both the fine food and peaceful atmosphere. The lunch menu covers wonderfully golden paninis, luscious burgers made with Hunter Cattle grass-fed beef, piled-high hoagies, inventive and tasty salads, and Create-Your-Own Pasta dishes.

My friend and I choose their coffee every time over any kind of tea or soda: Kona coffee with its own little pitcher of real cream.

Stroll over to the wine shelf and take a look at what they have to offer, or choose from their full-service bar where silent movies play all day.

Warm woods and cream-colored marble counters give the bar a classic look, but clear bowls of large seashells in ivory, peach and various shades of brown hint that you have found yourself in a town near the sea. Along with that theme you’ll find weekly specials of fresh fish glazed with wine and Italian spices, then baked in parchment for dinner, or try the Cedar-Planked Wild Salmon or Fra Diavolo Shrimp.

Joyce and Jim Shanks wanted to create a restaurant with a friendly neighborhood feel, similar to Bella’s, letting the menu branch out from the expected dishes. All of their sauces, like the pomodoro or pesto, are made fresh each day, and the meats are brought in locally from Hunter Cattle and Savannah River Farms.

For vegetarians or those wanting whole wheat or gluten-free choices, there are plenty of ways to satisfy your hunger. I recommend the juicy portabella burger or the pasta rich with cold-pressed olive oil and fresh garlic.

The Panini sandwiches here are a treasure, the crusts buttery and crispy, the melting cheese and thinly-sliced meats scrumptious. Try the Chicken Pesto Panini with a fresh salad, or the Muffaletta on a huge seeded bun, bursting with flavor—you can get it by quarter, half or whole sizes, though be warned: a whole Muffaletta is enough for two, especially served with the delicious herb-sprinkled fries.

The Porchetta is Joyce Shank’s royal feast: “Tender pork shoulder pounded thin, slathered with garlic & herbs, rolled up and simmered all night in Pinot Grigio!” I can hardly wait to try it!

Chef Reina Shank is the daughter of the owners and lends a knowledgeable hand in the developing menu. She creates weekly specials to tempt the regular customer, as well making the new decadent dessert, The Fioreo: two chocolate chip cookies with creamy sweet ricotta cheese filling, dusted with cocoa and powdered sugar.

The menu is a mix of Northern and Southern Italian blended with Down South flair, the waitstaff is always attentive without hovering, the prices are reasonable and the atmosphere is suitable for a comfortable chat over lunch or a special evening out. The food draws you in and keeps you satisfied, wondering what you can try next on the menu. Take yourself out to the Sandfly Foodie Loop, give in to that yearning for Italian cuisine and be sure to save room for the Fioreo!

Fiore Italian Bar and Grill