review: Palmetto Paradise 

Push past the exterior and you're in for some low-country lovin' at Filiberti's.

All around his rice and grits, Filiberti ladles on his "low-country specialties." These are denoted by a little palmetto graphic next to the name of each dish. If you stay in among the palmettos, you can't go wrong.

Filiberti's has been open for about three months. When you call the phone number, the message on the answering service gives you explicit directions on how to find the restaurant. It's a good thing. If you weren't looking for it, you'd probably never know that it's there. The building sits back from the road tucked between a piano store and a bicycle shop. It looks like a converted Pizza Hut. It looks like just another restaurant. But inside you are treated to some very good food and, if you're lucky, some of Chef Filiberti's good-hearted conversation.

During our visits we focused on the palmettos. The Crawfish Etoufee ($17.95) was ladled next to some of that great rice. The sauce — dark brown, rich and tangy — whispers cardiac attack. It's worth the risk, though. The crawfish tails were huge and tender. It tasted as if there were a bit of beef stock in the sauce. This was new to me, but it didn't distract from the flavor of the crawfish or the subtle bite of the seasonings. The Shrimp and Grits ($17.95) was equally impressive. Every menu claims to serve "large shrimp." Filiberti delivers. Ten massive critters were sautéed with applewood bacon and yellow onions and then simmered in dark brown gravy and served over pale yellow stone-ground grits. This was my favorite without any doubt. Also of note were a fine fish stew ($2.95/$4.25) and the Lowcountry Bread Pudding with butter bourbon sauce ($3.95).

The service was inconsistent. On our weekday visit, the staff treated us very well. On the weekend, when the place was jammed, our server was pretty inefficient and forgetful. This is the nature of a new restaurant, though, and I do believe that things will smooth out as time goes on. Everyone was congenial and helpful, and that is the first step. Then, of course, there is the chef himself.

Tony Filiberti is what my mom would refer to as "a character." He's very amiable and smiles a lot, but you can tell he's a bit of a rascal. There's something endearingly devious about him. He sat at the bar and spoke with us for about an hour after dinner. He outlined his travels as executive chef for the Carolina Panthers, then Philip Morris and finally for himself. He offered to take me fishing and get me some of the plump, domestic crawfish tails that he serves. He didn't know me from Adam, didn't know I was going to review his restaurant. He just sat down, we started talking, and an hour later we were chummy and fibbing about the fishing trip we were going to take. That kind of charm can go a long way in distracting one from little shortcomings.

Filiberti's is a testament to the adage that you can't judge a book by its cover. If you find your way there, push past your initial impression and keep pushing until you find yourself in the palmettos. You might want to bring your fishing pole, too. S

Randall Stamper worked in restaurants in Boston, New Orleans and Indiana for seven years and worked as everything from dishwasher to general manager. All his visits are anonymous and paid for by Style.

Filiberti's ($$$)

11016 Midlothian Turnpike


Lunch Monday through Friday 11 a.m.-2 p.m.

Dinner Monday through Saturday 5 p.m.-10 p.m.

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