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When you’re craving a slice, these local eateries bake the best pizzas

In Lakewood Ranch, the sky is the limit for pizza possibilities.


The “Grandma’s Sicilian” pizza is one of Michelangelo’s signature offerings.
The “Grandma’s Sicilian” pizza is one of Michelangelo’s signature offerings.
Photo by Nancy Guth
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Pizza.

Just say the word, and the Pavlovian response kicks in. A slice of pizza fills your mind’s eye and makes your mouth water. So much power in one simple word! 

Ah, but pizza’s not that simple. Because there’s no such thing as a generic pizza. Italy’s diverse pizza styles are shaped by region and tradition. In the United States, our pizza is a mix of Italian imports (Neapolitan, Sicilian, Roman) — and stateside inventions (Chicago-style, New York-style, New Jersey-style). 

Any way you slice it, the spectrum of pizza is vast. Here are a few variations in the pizzerias of Lakewood Ranch. 


Adolfo’s Italian Market & Pizzeria

If You Go: Adolfo’s Italian Market & Pizzeria, 225 Natures Way, Unit 111, Lakewood Ranch; 941-388-8701; AdolfosLWR.com

Adolfo’s pizza chef Benny Scotto prepares one of the many hand-tossed pizzas they will sell that day.
Photo by Nancy Guth

Chef/owner Gary Blake founded Adolfo’s to honor the Italian legacy of his mother’s side of the family — the Colantuono lineage from Naples, Italy. The pizza here is hand-tossed with a thin, crispy crust topped with fresh and simple ingredients. “

Naples is the place where pizza started,” says Blake. “Neapolitan immigrants like my grandfather came over to America — and brought their pizza recipes with them. They opened pizzerias — first in the northeast, and then the whole country. People keep trying to ‘reinvent’ pizza. But nobody’s improved on the original. Neapolitan pizza is light as a feather.” 

Blake shared some insights with us recently about the world of pizza.

What sets Neapolitan pizza apart?

The secret is the dough. It’s semolina dough, not white dough. Once people taste our pizza, they absolutely fall in love with it. But it’s not what they expected. 

Where did you learn the secret of making authentic Neapolitan pizza?

My great-grandfather, Leopoldo Colantuono, came from Naples and immigrated to America when he was 12 years old. He passed on his recipes to our whole family.

And now you’re serving them up for a new generation of pizza lovers. That must be a source of pride.

Absolutely. I was very close to my grandpa, Alberto Colantuono — who also came to this country. My mom, Vicenza, was named after my great-grandmother, who came from Italy as well. We’ve always been a very close-knit, loving family. I’d always told my uncle that if I ever opened my own pizzeria, I’d name it after my grandfather’s middle name, “Adolfo.” He loved the idea, and that’s what I did. 

So, Adolfo’s is a family affair. Family is the reason this place exists?

Yes, that’s true. We’re here because I wanted to bring our family traditions to the Lakewood Ranch area — and not just pizza. We’re a one-stop shop for anything Italian, including fresh breads, pastries, meats, cheeses, wines, grocery goods and olive oils.

What makes a great pizza?

Pride. And the love of making it.

Aside from your pizza, what others stand out for you?

I’d say it’s a tie between Sally’s Apizza and Frank Pepe’s in New Haven, Connecticut. Pepe’s is one of America’s oldest pizzerias; their ovens still use coal. 

Can you share an interesting Adolfo’s anecdote?

Sure. One night, a lady came in with her elderly father. After awhile, he started crying, because the ambiance at Adolfo’s made him start talking about his Italian heritage. Later, she told me, “Gary, he hadn’t talked about it for such a long time. We really missed that about our dad! We’re so happy your place brought back those memories and got him talking about it.” It was such a loving moment.


Atria Café

If You Go: Atria Café serves artisanal pizzas, fresh salads and wine and beer, 5-8:30 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays. 4120 Lakewood Ranch Blvd., Lakewood Ranch; 941-751-1016; Atria.Cafe.com

Atria’s pizza toppings are all made in-house with top ingredients.
Courtesy image

Lakewood Ranch residents Jim and Weyli Angus wanted to create a unique gathering and dining space for Ranchers. In 2020 they did — and Atria Café was born. 

By day, this intimate café offers house-made, artisanal sourdough bread and pastries, specialty coffees and sandwiches. In the evenings, they’re all about pizza. At any time of day, it’s a hub of constant creation. 

“Apart from laying the eggs and milking the cows, we make everything in-house,” says Jim, who’d been a chef for 12 years before launching Atria with Weyli. “Food is something that brings people together,” he adds. “We wanted to create a space for local people enjoying local products and connecting with neighbors.” 

What makes Atria’s pizza so deliciously different? Jim was happy to share his pizza-making philosophy.

What’s the advantage to using sourdough for the pizza base?

The first big advantage is flavor. Sourdough yeast gives you a flavor that you just can’t get with commercial yeast. It’s hard to describe, but there are different levels and degrees. Sourdough products taste fuller and richer — and that definitely applies to pizza. The second advantage is nutrition and digestibility. Unlike commercial yeast, there’s a lot of nutrient density in each sourdough grain. It also cuts up the long chains of gluten protein, which makes it easy for your body to digest. People with gluten sensitivities can eat our bread, pastry, and pizza with very few issues.

What’s the secret sauce to your toppings?

We’ve got the same usual suspects you’d find in any pizza place — mushrooms, tomatoes, prosciutto, pepperoni, and greens like arugula. But all our toppings are in their freshest, purest, simplest form. We use Old World methods to inject flavor and texture into our ingredients before they go on into the pizza. So, instead of just slicing our tomatoes, we blister their skins and then cook them in a mild chili oil. We take the same approach with mushrooms. We slowly cook our mushrooms in garlicky oil and then take the stems and shallots and create a mushroom-infused oil that we soak the mushrooms in. Our “Fun Guy” pizza is perfumed with this rich, deep mushroom flavor.

Atria’s goes the extra mile with ingredients and culinary wizardry. Do you need to educate your customers so they understand the difference? 

Not really. Once they taste the difference, they get it.


Michelangelo Pizzeria & Cucina 

If You Go: Michelangelo Pizzeria & Cucina, 11517 Palmbrush Trail, Lakewood Ranch; 941-739-5656; MichelangeloPizzaRestaurant.com/Lakewood-Ranch-FL

The popular Michelangelo Pizzeria & Cucina boasts four area locations; its Lakewood Ranch venue opened in 2004. Owners Jon Allen and Joe Sciulara got on board in 2020. 

Its claim to fame? When it comes to pizza, it’s its hand-tossed New York-style pies. The name, says Allen, is a nod to the artistry of the restaurant’s Sicilian family founders. “They immigrated here from Sicily to New York and started out with bakeries and pizzerias,” he says. “When they moved to South Florida, they brought their family recipes and traditions and created the perfect neighborhood Italian restaurant.” 

Michelangelo Pizzeria & Cucina opened in Lakewood Ranch in 2004.
Photo by Nancy Guth

Today, Michelangelo’s pizza masterpieces take many forms. Allen took some moments to share the passion that drives this painstaking art.

Everyone we spoke to described your pizza as “amazing.”

(Laughs) Who am I to argue?

What makes it so amazing?

Because of our old-school methods. A lot of pizzerias try to modernize and automate the whole process — the national chains especially. At Michelangelo, we still make our pizza the traditional way — with our hands. That means more than making a big show about tossing the dough. It demands high standards, zero compromise, and a laser-focused attention to detail every step of the way. That includes what we put into our pies and we’re very picky about selection. We use the best ingredients we can find and handpick the tomatoes and cheeses to find the right salt content, the right melt, the right color. We make all our own dough. Then we hand-stretch the dough, sauce it and cheese it. In the next-to-the-last step, we bake all our pies in a brick oven.

What’s the last step?

Enjoying a great pizza pie!

What’s your signature pizza?

Our artisanal Grandma’s Sicilian pizza is probably our signature pizza. It’s one of my personal favorites. It goes back to one of the recipes our original owner brought to this country. 

Who was this “Grandma”?

This “Grandma” is like everybody’s grandma. See, the concept of “Grandma’s Pizza” started in Europe. It’s the kind of pizza your grandma would make for you at home from leftovers she had on hand. It’s rustic, hearty, not curated. We use focaccia-style bread dough, which gives it kind of a leopard pattern. We put the sauce on top of the cheese, not underneath like a typical American pizza. It’s the pizza you’d expect your Sicilian grandmother to make you.


Extra Slices

There’s no pizza shortage in Lakewood Ranch. In case you’re still famished, here are a few extra slices. 


Rico’s Pizzeria
Rico's Pizzeria & Pasta House has locations in Lakewood Ranch, in St. Armands Circle, on Bay Road and on Tamiami Trail.
Photo by Monica Gagnier

Thick-crust Sicilian pizza is Rico’s crowd-pleaser. They load it up with peppers, onions, anchovies, tomatoes, herbs, strong Sicilian cheeses, or whatever your heart desires. Just ask and you’ll receive. Feel like thin-crust pizza? You can ask for that, too. 14435 E. S.R. 70, Lakewood Ranch; 941-758-9999; RicosPizzaPie.com.


Jersey Brothers Pizza 

When you’re looking for a slice of New Jersey in Bradenton, this is the place to be. This pizzeria is the creation of brothers Bob and Bill Nehila, who are from New Jersey. What makes a Jersey-style pizza stand out? Like a New York-style pie, its thin crust is made to be folded and eaten on the run. But since most Jersey-style pies are cooked in a stone, brick or coal-fired oven, you get a charred and more crispy crust. 8744 E. S.R. 70, Bradenton; 941-782-8820; JerseyBrothersPizzaAndPasta.com.


Main Street Trattoria 

Chef/owner Sergio Di Sarro’s signature flatbread pizza is perfect for a light treat; the shrimp flatbread with mozzarella and vodka sauce is delicious. For those who prefer a classic pizza, Main Street Trattoria offers them every which way, including the Buffalo Chicken, with the restaurant’s signature buffalo sauce. 8131 Lakewood Main St., Lakewood Ranch, Suite 101; 941-210-4101; MainStreetTrattoria.com.

 

author

Marty Fugate

Marty Fugate is a writer, cartoonist and voiceover actor whose passions include art, architecture, performance, film, literature, politics and technology. As a freelance writer, he contributes to a variety of area publications, including the Observer, Sarasota Magazine and The Herald Tribune. His fiction includes sketch comedy, short stories and screenplays. “Cosmic Debris,” his latest anthology of short stories, is available on Amazon.

author

Su Byron

Su Byron has worked in the regional arts and cultural world for the past 25 years as a writer, an editor, and a public relations and marketing specialist. For 12 of those years, she was the co-publisher of the Sarasota Arts Review, a monthly arts and entertainment newspaper. Su is a freelance writer whose regular columns and articles appear in a host of regional and national publications.