A slice of Sicily in the heart of Ybor City

Casa Santo Stefano, Richard Gonzmart’s newest restaurant, is a soaring complex filled with artwork, and antiques, that pay homage to the little island of Sicily, off the Italian coast, and Ybor City’s rich Sicilian heritage. 

The open kitchen, complete with a wood-fired grill, sits in full view of the downstairs dining room.

Upstairs is Santo’s Drinkeria, complete with a full bar, special menu and broad piazza, offering the cocktail crowd a special experience overlooking the east end of Seventh Avenue. It’s the perfect spot to enjoy a classic cocktail and a hand-rolled cigar. Casa Santo Stefano is a complete experience with memorabilia from Ybor City’s history, bespoke cocktails and an inspired menu with dishes served on hand-painted dinnerware from Caltagirone, Sicily.

Plan to spend some time at the beautiful bar, downstairs, before being seated for dinner. The drink menu offers a full selection of specialty cocktails. For a refreshing spin on the margarita, try the Paradiso cocktail, made with Casa Noble Crystal Tequila, Martini and Rossi Fiero and fresh blood orange juice.  The Fiero’s vermillion color is brilliant, and the bold citrus flavor balances the salted rim perfectly. Wines are all made in Sicily and the growing collection will soon be the largest Sicilian wine collection in the United States. An order of arancini goes great with all drinks. The breaded risotto balls mixed with Bolognese, mozzarella and peas are fried crisp and served with tomato sauce for dipping. They are delicious and fun, with strings of cheese pulling with every bite.

Scacciata Siciliana is a great way to start. If you are used to scacciata from a box, this is a different experience. It is served warm. The edges of the bread are crisp and give way to a soft, pillowy center. It’s made with 00 flour and melts in your mouth. Piquant Caciocavallo cheese is dusted over the top to finish the dish. Another appetizer is the Salsiccia Griglia Pardo, a unique sausage based on Tampa’s Pardo family recipe. In the 1940s, Jimmy Pardo created a sausage sold in the family’s market in Tampa. Today, Jimmy Pardo’s grandson, Enzo, is a sous-chef at Casa Santo Stefano and makes the same sausage using his grandfather’s recipe. The sausage links are thin, making them easy to spiral around a thick slice of lemon and skewered. Then it’s grilled over an open flame. The char from the grill, and smoky flavor, infuse the juicy sausage creating a flavorful and satisfying bite. Order the scacciata and salsiccia with a salad for a perfect lunch or to start an amazing dinner.

Sicily is an island, so seafood plays a big role in the Sicilian diet. At Casa Santo Stefano, there are several seafood items on the menu, including Zappones’ Linguine con Vongole. Tender middleneck clams are simmered with garlic in a white wine and tomato sauce. Crushed red pepper adds heat while a kiss of butter enriches the sauce. Sop up any remaining sauce with some bread. You won’t want to waste a drop. Sea Bass Grigliata is light, flaky and flavorful, served alongside eggplant caponata and grilled lemon. Lobster, shrimp, grouper, swordfish and cuttlefish round out the seafood options.

Pasta selections include traditional dishes like lasagna, ravioli and spaghetti with meatballs. Don’t pass on the ravioli. These are special. Not only is the house made pasta cooked to perfect al dente but the filling is a mix of ricotta and pesto. The pesto adds an unexpected basil flavor to an extraordinary presentation of ravioli.

Along with seafood, there are plenty of entrée’s featuring veal, beef, pork and chicken. Grilled rib-eye and porterhouse steaks are served with crispy pecorino potatoes. For a true taste of Sicily, try the bracioluni. It’s a rolled flank steak filled with Italian sausage, pancetta, hard-boiled egg, garlic and Caciocavallo cheese. It’s braised in a rich tomato sauce and served with casarecce and diced potatoes.  It’s rich and hearty, with a complex flavor profile that excites the palate and satisfies the soul. 

For dessert, pastry chef Gabriella Hernandez recreates, and elevates, the classics. House made gelato is rich, and creamy, and comes in chocolate and nut flavors. Cassata Sciliana is the classic sponge cake flavored with lemon and almonds, while panna cotta is served alongside a fresh berry coulis. If you can get only one dessert, go for the Cannoli de Ricotta. The shells are made in-house and filled to order with ricotta cheese flown in from Sicily.  It’s a wonderfully crisp and delicate shell that crumbles into the sweet filling studded with chocolate chips. The ends of each cannoli are rolled in candied orange peel and pistachios. This might be the best cannoli you’ll ever eat.

The Casa Santo Stefano is the quintessential Tampa Sicilian experience.

The Privileged Palate is a journey to some of the finest places to eat, and drink, in the Tampa Bay area. If you know somewhere TBBW should visit, contact Michael Mikuliza at [email protected].

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