Quite often Jill and I will be asked “where the great restaurants are,” as though they’re bunched in one locale. While it’s always easy to point to St. Armand’s Circle or Main Street in Sarasota, there are plenty of reasons to travel upstream or downstream when panning for restaurant gold.
Recently we decided to travel off the beaten path and found ourselves at Tiramisu Ristorante & Pizzeria, located in an unassuming strip plaza at the corner of 14th Street West and 53rd Avenue West in Bradenton. (A quick check on their website directs guests to go to the “same plaza as Dairy Queen and Dunkin Donuts.”) While those easily recognized logos may help you find your way, it’s somewhat ironic that their facades “almost” hide the incredible flavors that await you at Tiramisu.
We absolutely love experiencing restaurants as authentic and genuine as Tiramisu. The dining room is modest and cozy – I counted 9 tables, all of which were filled upon our arrival. The atmosphere of Tiramisu is more akin to a family gathering because all the patrons seemed happy to be at their “secret” dining hot-spot.
The owners, host Luca, and his chef/wife Monica have been in the United States just over a year, having migrated from Italy in the fall of 2014, unable to speak any English before pursuing their dream to own a restaurant in Florida. It’s clear their vision, skill, and passion have made Tiramisu Restaurant a favorite Bradenton dining destination . . . not only does Luca now speak pretty decent English, but patrons recognize the difference between the “Americanization” of Italian food and authentic Italian, if you know what I mean.
So let’s talk about their food, shall we?
Jill and I invariably heed the suggestions of owners and servers in a place like Tiramisu, happily discovering that our culinary “tour guide,” the gentile Luca, was spot-on with his suggestion to share a portion of the Scallops Primavera appetizer, featuring chopped scallops seasoned with lobster breading, broiled and served back in their shells and garnished with fresh Roma tomatoes. The recipes at Tiramisu have been handed down through generations in Monica’s family, and all the love and history of her authentic Italian roots shines on the plate. The slightly briny, cheesy-melty goodness of the Scallops Primavera was simply something to behold . . . and lustily consume. Just looking at the picture makes me want to go back! We could have taken “before and after” pictures, but who needs to look at our empty, spotlessly clean plate?
Our dinner adventure began with a lovely mixed green salad topped with diced cucumber, tomato, and red onion, all tossed with a magnificent light, simple vinaigrette and served with fresh, hot bread and a garlic seasoned whipped butter. Fresh and delicious will never go out of style, and this prelude to the main courses was perfect. Monica’s knife skills were present throughout the meal, including the salad, where every morsel was evenly cut, resulting in a salad with even distribution of the house dressing, crunchy and refreshing.
After we finished our salads, we took a moment to take in the atmosphere of the room, where other guest’s comments belied our initial opinion of Tiramisu Restaurant. At the table next to us a woman was complimenting the Calamari appetizer. “That’s about as good a Calamari as I make, and I’m 100% Italian . . .” she said. “I don’t throw compliments around about Italian food unless I mean it.”
“I was at the Son’s of Italy meeting today, and everyone was telling me to come here, so . . . Here I am,” declared a gentleman at another table. So it shouldn’t have been a surprise – though it was- when one of the regulars began strolling about playing the mandolin. We discover his name is Salvatore, an Italian son living in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada. In Sal’s opinion, live music is the only thing missing from the magic at Tiramisu! Salvatore simply enjoys playing, and Luca and Monica are happy to have him visit. Like I said before, this feels like a family affair! Awesome!
Luca found my weak spot when he suggested the evening’s Braised Lamb Shank special. The oh-so-tender shank came with a side of wonderful al dente rigatoni bathed in a mouthwatering braising liquid, which absolutely made this dish sing . . . an Italian aria! I might call ahead of my next visit, just to be sure Monica’s Lamb Shank will be available. We dined at 7:00 and grabbed the second-to-last lamb shank available that night. (Luca, I apologize if I come across as begging to have this again and again!)
Jill ordered the Scaloppina Montecarlo, a dish that bursts with the flavors of veal scaloppini sautéed with garlic, olive oil and fresh chopped tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and roasted red peppers – all topped with melted mozzarella and served with a healthy helping of linguine. Jill declared her veal was “mmmphrrohhmmm!” (Or something like that!) I believe that translates to say there was absolutely nothing one could add or subtract to improve on her dinner. She was especially taken with the freshness of the marinara, which was clearly made earlier that day, cooked long enough for the garlic and spices blended in the sauce, yet fresh enough that the tomatoes held up to the weight of the home-made pasta. She gave me a bite, and I had to agree . . . “mmmphrrohhmmm!” And the tender, seasoned veal? Fahgettaboudit!
Most of the pasta is made fresh daily at Tiramisu, except the penne and spaghetti, which require machinery Monica doesn’t have yet. The marina and meat sauces are all made from scratch, with Monica showing up at 8:00 am each day to start on the various raviolis and pastas, meat sauces and home-made sausages as well as a daily dessert special, which could include a spin on the classic Tiramisu, like her Strawberry Tiramisu, or a dessert unique to Italy.
We had to know if their classic Tiramisu lived up to the rumors. After all, it is their namesake. So we somehow managed to restrain ourselves, ( as in asking for part of our dinners to be packed up to-go,) so we had room for dessert. After all, it would just be plain wrong when you come to Tiramisu and did not order one.
Our Tiramisu arrived looking like a case of “our eyes being bigger than our stomach,” but nothing could be further from reality. Monica’s Tiramisu immediately became the Gold-Standard by which I will measure all other tiramisu desserts! So light and flavorful was this classic, that I only to only show my fork the Tiramisu before it began to dissolve the espresso-soaked ladyfingers, mascarpone, and cocoa powder dusting onto my ever-grateful taste buds. The flavors of this dessert will be saved in my memory bank forever. This is dessert worth naming a restaurant after!
I’d like to think that I’m pretty easy to please, but this wasn’t a case of just “pleasing me.” Count me in as a flat-out raving fan of Tiramisu Restaurant and Pizzaria from this day forward! One suggestion. . . call ahead for a table, especially on the weekends! We’re not the only ones who found this new restaurant to be a true delight.
And another suggestion? Stay for a glass of dessert wine. Like us, you won’t want to leave!
Grazie, Monica e Luca, e grazie per essere venuti in Florida!