I thought I knew a lot about pizza. I’ve had NY Style Pizza, Chicago Deep Dish, Chicago Thin Crust, Detroit Style, Sicilian, California Style, and even Greek Style Pizza. And, over the years, I believed I’ve had Neapolitan Pizza, only to discover that I probably haven’t . . . at least not while dining in the United States.
Neapolitan Pizza is the original pizza of Italy, hailing out of Naples, Italia. It arrived with Italian immigrants decades ago and is so valued by the Italians that the country sought UNESCO heritage protection for it. At Bavaro’s, Neapolitan pizza is the only kind they make, one of only 12 restaurants in the U.S. to serve the pizza as it was originally made. Owners Dan and Anna-Maria Bavaro are so committed to the craft of authentic Neapolitan pizza that Dan traveled to Naples to secure a hand-crafted wood-fired brick oven designed by third-generation of Neapolitan craftsmen. Once the pizza enters this masterpiece of an oven, 900 degrees and 90 seconds later, you have perfection on your plate!
He also secured a 100-year-old yeast culture and several equally aged Neapolitan pizza recipes to insure the pizza coming from his restaurant was as authentic as you could get without a valid passport and plane ticket to Italy. Add a specially milled flour, and you’ll find a formula for a craveable pizza that is heretofore unknown in these parts. Dan Bavaro’s wish is that every visit to Bavaro’s restaurants leaves you feeling like you’ve sat down to dinner table in southern Italy, and welcomed like famiglia. Speaking of famiglia, each and every member of the staff and management are completely in tune with a welcoming, genuine, and caring demeanor that makes this place different from most any other place we’ve dined at.
Many of the ingredients used in Bavaro’s kitchen are also imported from Italy, as was seen and tasted in their Antipasto Italiano charcuterie appetizer.
Featuring prosciutto de parma, mortadella, soppressata, mixed olives, provolone piccante, asiago, parmigiano reggiano, every ingredient except the fresh arugula and sourdough bread are imported from Italy. I had the pleasure of sharing this delightful appetizer twice last week, once with my family and again with a group of local food and lifestyle bloggers, writers and photographers. Delish!
Also ranking highly on my list of favorites at Bavaro’s is the Floridian Salad. Featuring a spring mix as the base, the Floridian is topped with cherry tomato, red onion, seared shrimp and a homemade champagne vinaigrette. But it’s the seldom seen Wensleydale cheese, and champagne vinaigrette that made this salad extra special to me. I loved the tang it added to each bite, and the creamy goodness against the crunch of the spring mix and onion. This is a ‘must try’ in my book. (And let me know what you think!)
A hit with the group of bloggers at my table last Tuesday night (all women, by the way) was the Bruschetta topped with freshly sliced avocado and balsamic glaze. It was so yummy that our table of seven arranged for a second order, even knowing we had pizza coming. Women ordering extra carbs? What can I say… YUM!
The most classic recipe for a Neapolitan pizza is the Margherita Pizza, a seemingly simple pizza featuring fresh san marzano tomato, fior di latte, parmigiano reggiano, fresh basil and a drizzle of olive oil. But did you know the Margherita pizza was actually named after Queen Margherita, wife of King Umberto, in 1889? The creation of Naples chef Raffaele Esposito, the Margherita Pizza’s colors, red (tomato), white (mozzarella) and green (basil) represent the colors of the Italian flag. Light on sauce but full on flavor, the Margherita Pizza is perfect served Neapolitan style. Just look at that beautifully blistered crust! If I could change one thing it would be to add a little more basil.
Another two pizzas that earn rave reviews by the ladies at our table was the Burrata Pizza and the Tre-Carne. As you can guess, the Burrata pizza is very cheese forward, featuring a black truffle burrata, roasted cherry tomatoes, parmigiano reggiano, garlic and after coming out of the oven, topped with fresh arugula.
The Tre-Carne pizza is as close as you’re going to get for the meat lovers out there. Neapolitan pizza’s crusts are so thin that they resemble a crepe in the middle. While the edges are thicker, crispy and charred by the extreme heat of the brick oven, the center remains tender. So with soppressata, prosciutto and spicy Italian sausage topping this pizza, it is probably best to eat with a knife and fork. You wouldn’t want any of that sauce or cheese landing in your lap!
In addition to their Neapolitan pizza, Bavaro’s is also known for their homemade tagliatelle and ravioli pasta. When dining with the family I ordered the Ravioli al Funghi (mushroom ravioli) served with sun-dried tomato, Asiago and Gorgonzola cream sauce. Topped with more sun-dried tomato and fresh fried basil, this was flavorful, hearty dish. The pasta itself was the exact consistency needed for the two/three bite raviolis. Great value as well, in my book. I had enough left for lunch the next day!
The Tagliatelle Bolognese features the homemade tagliatelle pasta and a lovely bolognese sauce, or a 50/50 sauce with beef and pork. Bavaro’s also offers gluten free penne or spaghetti, but expect a 15 minute cook time if ordering gluten free. You can also order a zucchini vegetti, which is fresh zucchini spiralized like spaghetti pasta.
While Bavaro’s doesn’t make their penne pasta from scratch, the Vodka sauce in their Penne alla Vodka was a huge hit with the ladies at our table. This was one of those “I wish I hadn’t eaten all that bread” moments for most of us. The vodka sauce featured fresh San Marzano tomatoes grown in dark, fertile volcanic soil in the shadows of Mt. Vesuvius, pancetta, onion and panna, which is Italian for creme. Somehow this sauce is both rich and light at the same time. I could eat spoonfuls of it!
Speaking of sauce, Bavaro’s is famous for their line of pasta sauces. You can find it at the hostess stand of the new restaurant, through their retail partners, of by clicking here https://bavarospizza.com/pasta-sauce#products. I have a bottle of their Antico Pomodoro sauce waiting for me at home! (Yeah, I’ll make a delicious meal with it soon, but who am I kidding, going back is much more exciting!)
For those carnivore and pescetarians in the crowd, Bavaro’s does a great Bistecca and Pesce as well as a Pollo al Forno, all cooked in the wood-fired oven. I sampled the Bistecca, a 12 oz. N.Y. strip, prepared sous-vide, and then grilled to juicy, tender perfection. This is a lovely presentation as well, with the steak sliced and resting on a bed of roasted potatoes and arugula with some cherry tomatoes adding a bite of acidity. At our table of seven ladies, it was the smallest one of the bunch, Ariane Peralta of “In The Daily” lifestyle blog who made it very clear that once we all got photos of the Bistecca, we better send it her way . . . because “I’m gonna eat it!” Don’t you just love skinny girls who like to eat? Can I get an Amen?
There is typically only one fish featured each night, unless you want to count the shrimp on some of the pasta dishes. We enjoyed the Mahi Mahi, caught here in the Gulf of Mexico, and served with a mix of fava beans and spinach. A light extra-virgin olive oil and a touch of sea salt locked in the fresh from the Gulf flavor profile.
Dessert at Bavaro’s offers more deliciousness that definitely should not be missed. Listed on a separate menu, Bavaro’s offers a quality Tiramisu and some two bite Cannolis, but it’s their Nutella Pizza that I found most enticing. A small round of pizza dough is heated into a puffy ball in the oven, then sliced open and slathered with the rich, gooey hazelnut goodness that is Nutella. A sprinkle of powdered sugar sweetens up that charred crust, all resulting in a fun dessert that doesn’t take itself too seriously, while being seriously good! Luckily we all enjoyed a slice!
I would be remiss not to mention the lovely renovation Dan Bavaro completed for this historic building in downtown Sarasota, across the street from the Courthouse. Built in 1924, the building served as a law office, an apartment building, and at one time (rumor has it) a bordello. (I have no proof of that, but it’s good rumor!) Dan took 2 careful years transforming the two story building into the open concept restaurant it is today, all while protecting the sense of architectural history. Those of us who don’t want Sarasota to lose its charm will be thrilled with the result.
There is a lovely upstairs dining room, accessible by stairs and an elevator, as well as the downstairs dining area and seating at the pizza oven and bar. Outdoors is a lovely covered patio where guests can enjoy live music on the weekends, a toasty fire on cooler nights or take in the colorful mural of that Italian icon, Sophia Loren.
But ultimately, it’s the food that will keep me coming back to Bavaro’s Pizza Napoletana & Pastaria. Face it . . . when any restaurant can deliver food so irresistible that a table full of women start ordering extra carbs, the food has got to be amazing! At least I think so!
Congratulations Dan and Anna-Maria! And a big welcome to Sarasota!
*Media Dinners typically provide free food. That being said, we’re all coming back to Bavaro’s! Soon!