Sunday, April 16, 2023

Casa Santo Stefano in Tampa is a Sicilian Masterpiece!

"The dinner table is the anvil on which we forge our relationships."
- Stanley Tucci

Food in Tampa is in a constant state of refinement and reinvention.  Sometimes looking back and far away is the best way to bring home traditions, talent, and true Tampa Sicilian tastes.  We had the absolute honor to dine recently at Richard Gonzmart's and the Columbia Restaurant team's newest gastronomic success in the heart of Tampa called Casa Santo Stefano.  (Have I mentioned my husband's middle name happens to be Santo!!)  This new gem has exploded onto the food scene in several delightful ways.  You may recall a post I wrote about one of his other incredible local restaurants called Ulele, besure to check out that post as well. During our lunch, we noted serious business lunches, a few leisurely ladies who lunch, and a relaxed family gathered around a special lazy susan table sharing appetizers and family sized portions of pasta.  Cocktail hour starts revving up as the sun goes down on the rooftop bar named Santo's Drinkeria.  What a special place to meet with famiglia & amici!

The restaurant makes its home in a former 1925 Ferlita Macaroni factory appropriately.  What a way to pay homage to pasta which is hand made daily here.  As you enjoy your meal you will observe the hand-painted tabletops and plates that go along with the open kitchen with gorgeous backsplashes and volcanic rock counters signed by the Sicilian family who custom made this practical artwork.  Clink your glasses beneath an original signed Picasso.  Richard's photographs along with many local decendents line the walls of this cherished and historic building.  This wonderful photograph was taken by Richard while on a research trip to Santo Stefano called "The Watchmen".

Spend a few minutes lingering around the art and vintage photographs and you'll see the deep roots of Sicilian immigrants who made it to Tampa, Florida years ago.  Their culture and recipes are still thriving through the hands and hearts of people like Richard.  His touch went into every single design piece throughout Casa Santo Stefano, one of which is the name of the town that so many of them came here from.  Richard inquired of locals what their favorite family handed-down recipes and ingredients were in forming his delicious menu.We started with a delicious Sicilian red called Lignum and the most delicious Sfinciune which is a focaccia style bread that is so light, airy, and crunchy!

We then enjoyed the Valentis Burrata cheese whose interior creaminess melts in your mouth.  It was accompanied by heirloom tomatoes, picked red onions, and balsamic drizzled arugala.  

The side of Polpette Della Nana was a great choice.  Two healthy-sized meatballs braised in their house tomato sauce were light and full of flavor.

I enjoyed their unique take on Ravioli Di Ricotta which is also stuffed with a light pesto and served with their homemade tomato sauce and dusted with Grana Padano cheese. 

Next was their Cotoletta Parmigiana which was chicken breasts with a deep and delicious smoky flavor with just the right amount of mozzerella and homemade sauce and a delectable side of homemade maccheroni pasta. 

We were far too full to enjoy one of their amazing desserts, but we will e sure to get their cannolli or gelato on our next trip which will be quite soon!  

There is an old saying, "Ripe bananas are the mark of a good produce section.  A good produce section is the mark of a superior store.  A superior grocery store is the mark of a good man,".  Well Richard, your fresh garden outside has a good bounty, your kitchen is of superior quality, and all of Tampa knows Casa Santo Stefano is the mark of a good man with a heart devoted to preserving history and recreating your legacy over and over with your restaurants!  Although these walls speak volumes as it is, if they could give the customers some of Nana's advice, they would certainly be saying, "Mangia! Mangia!"

Saturday, February 11, 2023

The Island Life

Beaches, wild horses, a secluded island, historical ruins, naturalist tours, all inclusive meals, picnic lunches, daily social hour, a full honor bar, dolphins, bird watching, a mostly 1st edition library, the most comfortable front porch ever, and endless relaxation!  Yes, this place truly exists and it is every bit as heavenly as you'd think!

Join me on my journey to the 

Private boat ride over from Fernandina Beach, FL  There is also a daily ferry from St. Simon's, Georgia for campers and day visitors.  Free parking for inn guests at the marina as well.

Spotted our first of many horses during our stay while approaching the main inn, just a 3 minute walk from the boat dock.

Some of the ruins just at the old inn, built by the Carnegie's for their Granddaughter.  They give great history lessons here, for example John F. Kennedy Junior was married at the church here and they rented out the whole island!

My favorite place to relax on the front porch, 2 huge swings adorned each end and plenty of rocking chairs in the middle.  

Yes, that's hand stitched and says Greyfield!  

We took an included naturalist tour via truck out to the Dungeness mansion ruins, spotted plenty of horses, deer and armadillos along the way.  There were several tours a day offerred we will want to try next time like the fully furnished plum estate (which is on the national park part of the island, so if there;s a government shut down be aware).  

Dungeness Mansion Ruins, huge and beautiful - the interior photos are amazing too!

Plenty of deer- we kept searching for elusive albino one!

The massive trees were simply incredible!
Relaxation - time for wine and social hour!

Fires lit for the 50 degree evenings!

Appetizers with cocktails
DAY 2 Garden Tour & biking

Bee hives- they sell their delicious honey here too!

edible flowers - very delicious!

I took this on the boat dock looking for the alligators we kept hearing, this is 2 lights on a pillar but the shadow speaks about casting "light" versus casting fishing lines. 

Picnic lunches at your leisure for lunch.  Their homemade salads were fantastic and they were accommodating about special requests.
Look who is coming right up to the main house!  They definitely don't have a fear of humans, but no feeding or riding around here.  You can pet the adorable dogs that will greet you on the porch though!
Dog day afternoon on the porch after a bike ride

A rattlesnake plant - those leaves are stunning!

Honest John Bar - they had every mixer, wine, and cocktail ingredient you can imagine - even bitters and syrups!  You could self-serve anytime and they had a mixologist with a daily specialty drink during social hour.

The library was full of 1st and 2nd edition books- you were welcome to read any of them!

The Harpers Collection was the only thing hands- off. 

View of the porch inside the library

This sitting parlous had a beautiful fireplace and lots of games and original furniture pieces.  

Sunset over the water from the parlour

I made it into the dining room downstairs before the other guests so you can see the beautiful room

A tasty Barbera was our choice and their homemade bread was melt-in-your-mouth

We enjoyed a beautiful steak

The most un-gamey Pheasant was prepared

Cheesecake our second evening, their famous lemon pie was served the first night along with fish - I forgot to bring my camera (phone lol).  FYI there is no wi-fi here but data works if you really must, also no TVs.  It was SO nice to get away from news and socialize with new friends.  

TOMATO PIE!  Omg it was every bit as good as their recipe, which I am including here taken from their website blog.  Thanks to the Chef and staff for accommodating my request- it was outstanding!


Adapted from Greyfield Inn's blog, thanks to Chef Whitney Otawka
Yields 1 Pie, 8 slices.  You can use any pie crust recipe or one that is pre-made.  There is a great receipe located on their blog as well.
Pie Filling
2 Heirloom Tomatoes, medium sized
¼ cup Olive Oil
1½ teaspoons Kosher Salt
1½ cups Sharp White Cheddar (Cabot is a good starting point), shredded
4 Egg Yolks
6 Eggs
½ cup Heavy Cream
¼ teaspoon Dried Harrisa (If you don't have this no worries)
¼ cup Parmesan, grated
1 teaspoon Parsley
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Slice the heirloom tomatoes to around ¼ inch thick. Lightly oil a sheet pan with olive oil. Lay tomato slices on oiled pan in a single layer. Use a ½ teaspoon of salt to season the tomatoes. Roast for 40 minutes. Set aside.
Reduce oven temperature to 350 F. In a bowl whisk together egg yolks, eggs, heavy cream, and 1 teaspoon salt. Whisk well, until slightly frothy.
To assemble pie, layer 1 cup of shredded white cheddar into the pie shell. Add in a single layer of roasted heirloom tomatoes, around half of the tomatoes. Next, add remaining ½ cup of shredded white cheddar. Top with remaining roasted tomatoes. Sprinkle dried harissa over the top tomato layer. Pour egg and cream mixture over the tomato and cheese filling. Top with parmesan and parsley. Bake for 45-55 minutes. The pie filling should be set and the top, golden brown. Allow to sit for 10 minutes. 
Photo from Greyfield Inn Blog at
We so enjoyed celebrating our 21st wedding anniversary and the Greyfield sure knows how to make each guest feel special!

Greyfield Inn photo credit WSB-TV
Be sure to reserve early, we enjoyed the south porch room on the 3rd floor.  I recommend the master bedroom by the library on the 2nd floor or if you don't mind walking stay in one of the cottages.  

I hope you get to go and be sure to request that tomato pie in advance!