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!"

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