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Arts and Entertainment Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021 1 month ago

Art, music and grandma’s meatballs

When the pandemic struck, Cafe BarBosso added a new side dish to keep up sales and spirits: Live music performances.
by: Andréa Martone A+E Contributor

Some restaurateurs offer wine pairings with dinner courses. Others, like chef and owner Joe DiMaggio Jr.'s Cafe BarBosso, offers its guests a 17-member jazz orchestra to complement the many Italian dishes it offers.

Leave it to a New Yorker to come up with this concept, and to quote a stereotypical New York phrase……Fugetaboutit!

The pandemic took its toll on Sarasota’s area restaurants, many of which had to close, offer takeout only, or morph into something creative like DiMaggio did with Cafe BarBosso. Tucked away in the southeast corner of Palmer Crossing Shopping Center off Clark Road, BarBosso was a thriving business for five years until COVID-19 quashed the ability for patrons to dine indoors.

DiMaggio, a nice Italian guy who used to work as a kid in the kitchen of a popular Italian restaurant in Little Italy, N.Y.C., had an idea that worked.

Offer family-style takeout from BarBosso and hire local, well known music groups to play on an adjacent vacant lot to the processions of cars waiting to pick up “the goods.” The music included the Sarasota Jazz Project, a 17-piece jazz ensemble composed of some of the finest musicians on the west coast of Florida, the Shift Change Band, and a Saturday night rock 'n' roll band.

The idea spread like wildfire. Soon after advertising affordable, healthy Italian family meals, the throngs of people arrived, some with folding chairs and tables. Others came and lined up in the parking lot for tailgating parties. DiMaggio, having researched the price of a meal for a family of four at McDonald's, Burger King and Chick-fil-A, offered his guests an alternative for $29.95 for a meal of spaghetti and meatballs and salad for 4-6. “To date, I have over 180,000 orders,” says DiMaggio, who also offers “a pricier family version” of chicken parmigiana, an 18-inch pizza and salad for a total of $37.95. "It's been magical and beyond my expectations to be so supported and embraced by the community," he says.

When patrons began to eat indoors again, DiMaggio decided to play it safe and renovate the outdoors of his restaurant to include a large, outdoor covered seating area, so diners could continue to listen to music played outdoors.

He also revived the concept of showcasing area artists who were hired to paint on canvasses indoors and interact with the patrons, explaining the techniques they use in their "artwork in progress".

The walls of BarBosso are lined with finished paintings from a number of artists: Tom Ruthz, Charlotte Jordan, Gary DeStafano, Cortney Wall and many more talented artists who might not have an opportunity to exhibit their art at popular art galleries in Sarasota. All art is for sale. 

“I’m providing homemade, delicious Italian food, a forum for talented artists to paint,  an art gallery and a stage for prominent musicians," says DiMaggio. "It’s the perfect blend of art, music and food."





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I'm the Arts & Entertainment Editor for the Observer. I am a graduate of The University of Vermont and a former Editor-in-Chief of a large weekly newspaper chain in Long Island. Music, Arts and Entertainment permeate my blood.

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