Our careers as Realtors® and unabashed Foodies find us traveling the length and breadth of the Suncoast. In doing so, our heads are (at least figuratively) on a swivel and our ears are to the ground (not actually) when we are driving to and from appointments with clients.
So it was that we found ourselves in NW Bradenton to meet a long-time client, Antonio, an Italian Canadian who knows a “thing or two” about good Italian food. We had to drop off some paperwork and he suggested we meet at the parking lot of A Casa Tua, a relatively new eatery situated in an unassuming little plaza on Cortez, maybe a mile or two from the beach. Antonio mentioned that a recent story in his condo associations newsletter was congratulating their members for convincing the owners of A Casa Tua, originally a catering and meals-to-go establishment, to add tables and become a full-service Italian restaurant in September of this year. How’s that for supply because of demand?
Judging from the plethora of excellent Italian establishments in the area, we’re not the only ones craving honest-to-goodness comfort food from Italy, and after a visit to A Casa Tua, we will always be grateful for all the abundance of talented chefs from that country shaped like a boot.
Opened by the warm and affable couple of Nicola and Maria Simone, (Nicola was the previous chef at SarasotaFoodie favorite Amore on Pineapple in Sarasota,) this place delivers world-class cuisine in a postage stamp sized dining room (16 seats!) It honestly feels like you were invited into someone’s house for dinner. As we were early diners on this evening, we had the opportunity to ask plenty of questions, to which this lovely couple were more than happy to answer.
Fun fact #1: Nicola was born in Puglia and moved to Torino region at an early age, and because his family owned a restaurant, he has been in the restaurant industry “all his life.” This is important when perusing the menu and seeing how many of the dishes hail from Torino and Puglia, the inspirations behind each and every dish.
We started with a first course of the Parmigiana di Melanzane, which is more commonly known as eggplant parmesan. Trust me, there is nothing “common” about this dish. The layers of eggplant, fresh, house-made tomato sauce, mozzarella, and parmesan cheese was an eye-rolling bite of perfectly balanced flavors, robust and satisfying, and just the right amount of char on the cheese. Have I used enough adjectives yet? I loved it! And Jill’s reaction? “Honey, this is way better than yours.” (She loves my eggplant parmesan!) I would have taken offense if I wasn’t wholeheartedly agreeing with her, busily licking my plate clean!
Our second course of the house-made Crostini Neri, topped with a chicken liver pâté that hit another culinary bullseye. Dressed with virgin olive oil, and spread generously atop the chef’s homemade bread, I began to see, and taste, the love coming out of the kitchen.
Fun fact #2: Nicola and Maria shared the history of chicken liver pâté as it dates back to Medieval times in Italy. Once a food of peasant farmers that allowed them to use up days old bread along with the least used part of a chicken, the nobility quickly became enamored of chicken pâté moving it from the farmer’s table to the vast dining halls of Medieval castles. Would it be redundant to say that the rest is history?
Next was my personal show-stopper, Chef Nicola’s Tagliatelle Gamberi e Zucchine. Here was my opportunity to drop all pretense of American fine dining. a.k.a.” eating with a fork and knife” and dine like a true Italian, using my fingers to peel the shell-on prawns and savor the amazing spices and seasonings by licking my fingers clean! I literally devoured every last morsel of the succulent shellfish, grilled zucchini and cherry tomatoes that were bathed in extra virgin olive oil, garlic, and white wine. An absolute fuori campo!
It did not surprise us at this point when Maria suggested glasses of San Severo Rosso, often compared to Montepulciano, which leads us to:
Fun Fact#3: Just like sparkling wine can only be called champagne if the grapes are from the Champagne region of France, the San Severo Rosso, though tasting like a fine Montepulciano wine, can’t be called such because even though the Montepulciano grape vines were originally from the Abruzzo in east-central Italy, they were planted and harvested in Puglia, which is located in the southern “heel” of Italia’s geographical boot. Chosen in recognition of the Chef’s heritage, this wine is an example of how well thought out the menu of A Casa Tua is, and I learned a little more about Italian wine by conversing with Maria!
The San Severo Rosso is a delicious red wine that offers the rich aroma of the popular Montepulciano grape, with spicy hints, soft tannins, and an enduring aftertaste. It is also the house wine and the only red wine available by the glass. There are a few other bottles of wine available, but if you need more variety than that, A Casa Tua has a more than fair corkage charge of $7.00, should you choose to bring your own bottle.
If white wine is your preference, they serve an unpretentious Pinot Grigio, also from Puglia, that, if I may plagiarize the menu, has “brilliant straw yellow color with gold hints, an intensely full and fruit-forward aroma with crisp tones with excellent persistence.” My Pinot Grigio loving wife was more than pleased. Both the red and white house wines were offered at $6 a glass. Unbelievably good!
We moved on to the Zuppa Dello Chef, which on this evening was a hearty Pasta e Fagioli made with, you guessed it, pasta and white cannellini beans. Superbly seasoned, with a little salty pancetta to perfect the bowl, the Pasta e Fagioli is a favorite of mine, just as enjoyable on a warm summer’s day as in the colder days of winter . . . usually experienced in other parts of the world. (Cold in Sarasota is considered 50-60 degrees. Freezing here is believed to begin at 49 degrees. It defies science, but that’s Florida for you!) The pasta in this soup features the maltagliati pasta, which is the ends of the fresh-made tagliatelle pasta from Chef’s kitchen. The fresh flavor is undeniable.
Dessert? Don’t even think about eating here and leaving without Chef Nicola’s sweets – unless of course, that’s all you came for!
I dived into the Cannoli Siciliano, which is a house-baked crispy cannoli shell filled with a rich yet airy ricotta cheese, chocolate sprinkles, and bookended with maraschino cherries. As usual, Jill took a bite or two of my dessert, and I took 4 or more of her’s. She had to ask Chef Nicola if he made the cannoli shell himself, being that it was so light and crispy, she just knew it hadn’t come pre-made. True to order, Chef Nicola explained that the shells are made a day or two in advance — no more because the humidity would change the texture, and the ricotta cheese filling is added upon a guest’s order. The crunch was spectacular!
Jill’s dessert was Chef’s Coppa Tiramisu, a traditional recipe perfected by Chef Nicola’s use of a high-end mascarpone cheese that he has shipped in just for his Tiramisu. The mascarpone develops a golden hue and more authentic flavor than the mascarpone found locally. “I have to outsource many of my ingredients,” Chef Nicola explained. “That’s why I prefer working for myself and owning a smaller restaurant. The overhead of a larger restaurant would require me to focus on food costs in a way that I can work around in a small kitchen I prefer to indulge our guests with the authentic Italian flavors. It’s why I cook.” Needless to say, if Chef sells out the Coppa Tiramisu, (which means tiramisu in a cup) he isn’t going to rush out and buy other mascarpone and serve a lesser quality version . . . you’ll have to enjoy the cannoli instead!
Now, while craving Italian food is normal, getting excited about it is quite something else. And many descriptive adjectives later, let me tell you . . . A Casa Tua is someplace you can definitely get excited about! In fact, with only 16 seats, you may want to make reservations, now and for months in advance!
Bravo and Bellissimo!