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New Italian restaurant set to open in Lakewood Ranch

Bar Italia is scheduled to open on July 13 in the Center Point plaza.


Bar Italia is preparing to open on July 13 in the Center Point plaza on the corner of University Parkway and Lakewood Ranch Boulevard.
Bar Italia is preparing to open on July 13 in the Center Point plaza on the corner of University Parkway and Lakewood Ranch Boulevard.
Photo by Lesley Dwyer
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At 65 years old, Ricky Doody, the founder of NCR Ventures, said he is finished with big restaurant chains and eating at the mall. 

NCR stands for Next Cool Restaurants. Doody and his brother Chris created the Italian restaurant chains Bravo! Cucina Italiana and Brio Tuscan Grille before selling the parent company in 2018.

“I don’t want to do that again,” Doody said. “I love taking care of people. I love to serve, but I don’t have a lot of energy to do a lot more restaurants. It’s hard enough to build them and run them. I’d rather do a few more quality restaurants and keep it at that.” 

A few to Doody is about 10. Out of his five restaurant concepts, only Bar Italia is opening in multiple locations. Two are in Ohio with a third under construction. The first Florida location opened in Winter Park in 2023, and the second is about to open on University Parkway.

Barring any last-minute delays, Bar Italia will open in the Center Point plaza in Lakewood Ranch on July 13. 

“I’m tired of eating in malls,” Doody said. "There are about 20 options around the UTC Mall, but there aren’t a lot of options in Lakewood Ranch.” 

He said Bar Italia will fill a void. His aim is to get the eatery onto people’s lists of favorite restaurants where they eat a few times a month.  

Tony Cox, Director of Training and Development, said the food is high quality, made from scratch and reasonably priced. The bar-centric restaurant offers a happy hour Monday through Friday.

He recommends the limoncello margarita. Meyer lemon rinds are steeped in Everclear for 72 hours to make the limoncello. The pasta, pizza dough, sauces and salad dressings are also made in-house. The bread is freshly baked by Breadsmith of Bradenton. 

The menu features elevated but still classic Italian dishes like chicken parmesan and veal marsala. 

Cook James Prosso pulled a piping hot pepperoni pizza out of the wood-fired oven and said that was his favorite pie of all the menu options, which range from a simple Margherita to “The Pig & Fig” (prosciutto is the pig).

“The pepperoni has a nice little kick to it, but it’s also sweet,” Prosso said. “We throw on a little honey, a little Calabrian pepper oil, parsley and parmesan cheese.” 

The focus is on fresh, authentic Italian dishes. Doody and his wife, Wendy Berry Doody, travel to Italy two or three times a year to bring back ideas for the menu.  

The pizza dough is light and flaky, as it would be served in Florence or Rome. The marinara sauce has the flavor of garlic, but you won’t bite down on a chunk of it.

Cook James Prosso recommends the pepperoni pizza at Bar Italia because it's sweet and spicy.
Photo by Lesley Dwyer 

“My wife has almost an allergy (to garlic), but she eats the food in Italy without getting sick,” Doody said. “This marinara was kind of driving her crazy. It was more of a heavy, Brooklyn-based marinara, so we changed that.”  

Another dish off the menu — spaghetti and meatballs — is more of an Italian-American dish, but Doody said it’s become so popular that the Italians serve it now, too. 

The hospitality industry is all Doody has ever known. He attended the Cornell School of Hotel Administration and opened his first restaurant with his mom, Sue Doody, when he was 22 years old. 

Lindey’s Restaurant & Bar in Columbus, Ohio is still open today. Doody called it an institution. It also provided the connection that landed Bar Italia in the Lakewood Ranch area — the Casto family. 

CASTO is the real estate firm developing the Center Point plaza, but they, too, started in Columbus. 

“I’ve known the Casto family for a long time,” Doody said. “We like them a lot. We like what they do, and we’re happy to be a part of it.”  

Cox said the restaurant is starting out slow with happy hour and dinner service only. 

“We’ll start implementing lunch on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and then move forward into opening for full lunch service in a few weeks,” Cox said. “We want to make sure that everything is flowing the right way.”

 

author

Lesley Dwyer

Lesley Dwyer is a staff writer for East County and a graduate of the University of South Florida. After earning a bachelor’s degree in professional and technical writing, she freelanced for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Lesley has lived in the Sarasota area for over 25 years.

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