D'Agostino's Villa Nova Restaurant
When Joseph ("Papa") and Antonetta ("Mama") D'Agostino first came to Florida, they opened a putt-putt golf course. It was not long before their special talents with Italian food led them into the restaurant business.
Their first restaurant was the La Cantina, which still operates on East 50 in Orlando. One day, while taking the family out for a drive, the D'Agostinos drove up 17-92 and "Mama" D'Agostino spotted a piece of property that she wanted. At that time the property, 839 North Orlando Avenue, was way out in the country. Mama was adamant that this property would be an excellent place to open a new restaurant, so they purchased it, sold the La Cantina and built the Villa Nova. The name, Villa Nova, was appropriate since it means "new house" in Italian.
Mama's wonderful Italian dishes soon brought many diners to the area. She ruled the kitchen, and none of her specialties were ready to serve until Mama herself tasted the sauce and pronounced it perfect.
Almost every celebrity who came to the Central Florida area was a guest at the Villa Nova and the walls were decorated with hundreds of autographed photos of Papa Joe with a famous person.
After Papa Joe's death in 1971, their daughter, Jeanne Rodriguez, operated the restaurant with the help of her husband John and her brother Tony. Mama D'Agostino left the Villa Nova kitchen in 1961, but returned often to give it "the white glove test." Mama died in 1987.
The family sold the Villa Nova in 1976, reacquired it a year later and sold it again in 1981. Under the new ownership, the lounge formally known as the Don Quixote lounge was remodeled and renamed the Cheek to Cheek lounge. After 42 years of dining excellence, the Villa Nova closed its doors for good in the spring of 1990. During its prime, the Villa Nova won more than a dozen Golden Spoon awards and set the standards that all Winter Park restaurants would always follow.
The Villa Nova has been torn down for many years, and a CVS drug store now resides on the site.
This article was written by former archivist, Barbara White, MLIS.