As I glanced over the menu at Venezia, on St. Armands Circle, something caught my eye. Sure, the diverse selection of pizzas, pasta and panini sandwiches captured my attention. But I was curious about Venezia’s logo, which reads “since 1966.”
Venezia opened in January on the Circle. But, it turns out, its history goes back further.
Since 1966, owner Rafael Miccio’s family has owned an Italian restaurant, also called Venezia, in Mar del Plata, Argentina.
Mar del Plata is similar to the Sarasota area, Miccio said. It’s a resort town on the beach.
Today, Miccio’s father and uncle continue to operate the restaurant, while Miccio carries on the family tradition on the Circle, where he has also owned Settimi’s Ice Cream, 367 John Ringling Blvd., since 2001.
“This is a dream come true,” Miccio said.
We dined at Venezia on a quiet Thursday afternoon. While we’ve noticed large crowds gathered at the restaurant during the evenings, lunch at the restaurant seems to be a well-kept secret.
We started our meal with stuffed mushrooms ($10.95), which were brushed with oil and served with a flavorful filling of spinach, breadcrumbs and just a hint of cheese. It was a tasty, light start to our meal.
For an entrée, I chose the Sorrento panini ($8.50), a sandwich of baked bread, Sorrento ham, mozzarella cheese, tomato and fresh basil. The Sorrento was thickly sliced, slightly salty and full of flavor, and the mozzarella cheese was clearly fresh. It was a satisfying main course. But my eye kept wandering to my companions’ quatro formaggi pizza ($13.95), which features a rich mix of mozzarella, ricotta, gorgonzola and parmesan cheeses. One companion appreciated the fact that it seemed like it was made the traditional Italian way — with olive oil. She felt that the gorgonzola cheese added a depth of flavor to the cheese pizza, and it was also large enough to feed at least three people. The selection made us eager to return to Venezia to sample more of the 11 pizzas on the menu.
We were too full to sample the many colorful flavors of ice cream that the restaurant offers. Instead, we admired the colorful paintings by artist Bruce Fox that adorn the wall. The two-dimensional art work adds a trendy vibe to the Italian restaurant.
Although the pizza was our favorite selection, Miccio says that his family’s restaurant in Mar del Plata features less pizza and more fish and meat dishes than the St. Armands Circle restaurant.
We thought we made some pretty good selections at Venezia, but there’s always room for more. Miccio said we didn’t choose his favorite: he’s partial to the lasagna Napoletana ($13.95), described on the menu as a baked, homemade pasta layer served with meat sauce and mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses.
“The lasagna is the same as my grandma made,” Miccio said.
Address: 373 St. Armands Circle
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday through Sunday
Owner: Rafael Miccio
Opened: January 2009
Meals served: Breakfast, lunch and dinner
Payments: Major credit cards accepted
Good for: Authentic pizza
Special features: Artwork by Bruce Fox, available for purchase; outdoor dining on the Circle
Vibe/atmosphere: Trendy and colorful
Order this: Quatro formaggi pizza (above)
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