This small, family-owned Italian restaurant is better than one would expect from it's non-descript strip mall location. If you are looking for (DC) Fiola-level Italian in Gainesville, you may be disappointed. If, however, you are looking for good American Italian, with a lovely atmosphere, reasonable prices, patio options and excellent service, PLEASE visit this quaint restaurant.
Do not let the random trophies in the entry way scare you off. My boyfriend explained to me that this may actually be a benefit, showcasing the local flavor of families proud of their kids' accomplishments. The hostess was friendly and waiter, Joe, even better. He walked us through his favorites, explaining the benefits of various dishes.
Start with the fresh mozzarella. It is a bit salty (I LOVE salt, but just in case you do not), but good, overall. They use cherry tomatoes rather than larger, heirlooms, but the cheese is the focus. The portion is HUGE, so plan for that if you are actually considering a several course (Italian style) dinner.
The lasagna was solid and special "portobello mushroom" ravioli with vodka sauce very good as well. The homemade Cesar dressing was a nice touch for the Cesar salad. Light, not too heavy on the cream.
The service at Desiderio was outstanding. This, alone, would raise the review. While the food may not be at the level of a 5 star in the big city, the service beats out almost any NOVA hotspot you can name. Joe is a terrific waiter. He will give you his opinion and make suggestions, if you are trying to choose between options on the menu. The wine list is sparse, but decent and reasonable.
Allegedly they are considering a happy hour, so make Desiderio a stop on your way home.