...is published monthly reaching readers throughout Hillsborough, Pasco, Polk, Pinellas and Hernando Counties through our digital platforms and in print!
Oronzo Italian Restaurant’s old-world, new world recipes will meld in your mouth
By Paul Catala
It’s not the predictable that literally drives Evan Rosenthal to the New Tampa Italian restaurant. It is Oronzo’s customized, tried-and-true chicken pesto, caprese breads and grilled chicken recipes that makes the drive from his Tampa home worth the time and effort.
Owner Dan Bavaro says he’s more than happy to unveil the uncommon at what he calls his “fast-casual” Oronzo restaurant with a focus on traditional tastes with modern and unique spins.
Rosenthal, 40, assistant director for operational reporting at the University of South Florida, says he eats once or twice a week at Oronzo, along with his wife, Kim and daughter, Rebecca.
“The food is affordable and delicious; it’s a local gem,” says Rosenthal. “It’s a local favorite establishment for our family. The staff is friendly and the food is delivered fresh and timely.”
Bavaro, Oronzo president and co-founder, says it’s comments from customers like the Rosenthals that makes running his current 1,800-square-feet restaurant in New Tampa satisfying and fun. He hopes to replicate those factors into a new 1,900-square-feet Oronzo, scheduled to open in Tampa’s Midtown area by October.
Prior to Oronzo, Bavaro opened Bavaro’s Pizza Napoletana & Pastaria – located in downtown Tampa – in 2009. That restaurant had more of a focus on Neapolitan pizza pies and rustic pastas.
“What’s original culinary-wise, even though it’s ‘fast-casual,’ we’re making a lot of our food from scratch with the same old-world recipes as Bavaro’s,” says Bavaro, speaking from his home in Tampa.
Bavaro, 42, founded Bavaro by himself and it became what he says is one of the first 15 restaurants in the United States and first in Florida to make traditional tomatoes-and-mozzarella cheese Neapolitan pizzas – which for the first five years he prepared and baked. Bavaro’s was the first restaurant he ever opened.
“That’s why I got into it, to be on the forefront of that movement,” he says. “One of the great things about doing that is I honed in on the skill and I can train just about anyone that has the will to learn.”
About three years after founding Bavaro’s and stepping away from the pizza ovens and it’s 100-plus-year-old recipes, the idea for Oronzo was born. A frequent Bavaro’s pizza bar guest introduced Bavaro to Bob Johnson, the CEO of the renowned Melting Pot restaurants. He said a casual conversation in 2013 led to opening the doors of Oronzo.
“One day we’re sitting around just catching up and he said ‘What do you have in your back pocket? A guy like you always has something in your back pocket.’ What I actually had with me at the time was the concept which would soon become Oronzo,” says Bavaro, a Freehold, New Jersey native who moved to Florida in Dec. 2008. “I had started to dream of a concept that would be like Bavaro’s but with less extreme details culinary-wise, taking the heavy skill set of pizza making out of it.”
By 2017, Bavaro created a joint venture partnership with the Johnsons and led to what will be two Oronzo restaurants with a combined staff of about 50 employees focused on fresh, quality food with efficient customer service.
Like Bavaro’s, most Oronzo dishes will be fixed from scratch, including sausages and 200 orders per day of pasta. Another feature will be Oronzo’s piadina flatbread sandwiches made using traditional recipes from the 1800s -- with a twist.
“It’s like an Italian tortilla; we take the same piadina bread and fold it into an Italian burrito. It’s very unique, so not only are we taking these from-scratch recipes that are old world, we’re serving them in a very uncommon way,” adds Bavaro, who lives with his wife Anna-Maria and children Antonio, Lola, Niko, Gianni and Santino.
Another specialized dish at Oronzo’s, says Bavaro, is making cannoli cream from scratch, into which shells can be dipped. Although with Oronzo’s casual environment, specialized requests generally aren’t accommodated, but there is room for some customization as part of the staff’s customer service.
“We spend a lot of time with training and the support of our staff. That is a big thing. They’ll come around the counter, they’ll talk to you, they’ll educate and support those who aren’t familiar with the concepts,” Bavaro says. “We take a lot of pride in that.”
Besides the service and food, Bavaro says live entertainment is featured in Oronzo’s every two weeks, running through the end of the year and possibly longer. Among the entertainers has been a contestant on TV’s “American Idol” and a singer in Broadway’s “Phantom of the Opera.”
In addition, Oronzo’s staff relies on the latest restaurant technology for cooking, bookkeeping and cleaning, including kiosks and advance online options for ordering and loyalty programs.
But what Bavaro calls the “bottom line” of Oronzo’s appeal is its versatility in its function – providing fast-casual, old-world taste with crafted culinary care.
“The bottom line is it’s an old-world experience brought into today’s world. It’s experiencing uncommon Italian. If you’re coming in for a checkered tablecloth and traditional plate of chicken parmigiana, it’s not what we serve,” he points out. “But if you want a hip, new cool Italian concept served in a way you probably haven’t seen, come check us out. We won’t let you leave without having a great dining experience.”
Oronzo restaurant and Bavaro’s roots go back to Oronzo and Angela Bavaro, who immigrated from Bari, Italy in 1930 to Brooklyn, New York with a handful of family recipes. Oronzo owned and operated a trucking company, delivering to local markets and restaurants.
In keeping with family tradition, Bavaro carries on. “The vision: “to change the way people experience Italian food.” Come pay a visit, experience something old, something new… you won’t be disappointed.