Have you ever been rendered speechless by a food experience so exquisite and special that a pause is the least you can do in its honor? After all, bowing to a plate of shrimp would be silly, right? The other evening my taste buds came to life and sang to me the sweetest Italian song, dripping with delicious words like Sicilian oregano and fresh tomatoes. It was love at first bite at Cafe BarBosso.
There was me, a hungry novice so caught up in the company I was graced to be with that when the plates made their entrance, my senses snapped to attention for a celebratory “Hallelujah.” My love-sick eyes had already been delighted by the beautiful art that surrounds you from everywhere. Just when you think you’ve seen every painted canvas there, some stretching to 10 feet and beyond, your sights will hone in on colorful pictures tucked away in corners and even adorning the walls of the restrooms. And the staff, so easygoing and carefree, you almost forget these are some of the most seasoned professionals in the restaurant business, assembled and eager to give you the night of your life. Let’s break this down.
The Players. Chef Joe DiMaggio, Jr. has a larger-than-life persona with such an impressive resume that he’s been asked dozens of times since Café BarBosso opened its doors a year ago, to expand. “Come to our plaza!” and “Please open up here” have been common sayings from potential investors and landlords but Chef Joe scoffs at the notion at this point. “We’re one-year old, we haven’t reached our potential at this place yet,” is his pat response. Born of parents with enough wealth to keep him mostly out of trouble (yes, he is related to that baseball guy) and pique his interests in art, culinary interests, and travel, but not quite enough on his to-do list as a kid to keep him away from street ball and unsavory characters who would grow to influence him like family, Joe’s story was crafted from an early age. Playing stickball in front of a place called Little Charlie’s verged young Joe’s path with the owner, a guy named Frankie who would bet on the kids’ games and would pay Joe to let him know when the cops were watching his place. After some time, Joe was given odd jobs at the restaurant and probably picked up a good story or two along the way, in addition to feeling a burgeoning love for all things related to cooking, this tough kid from New York City eventually spent time in his family’s hotel kitchen in France where the notion he could be a world class chef became a real-time goal for Joe. Fast-forward through a career that has garnered a loyal legion of fans, eagerly following him from Servando’s to his new digs near I-75, affectionately named after Frankie BarBosso. That’s the thing about Chef Joe, his culinary excellence is equaled by his bold personality and a kind heart. He is just as happy to cook for a skilled food critic as he is to prepare dishes for a local mechanic. He loves people, and well, people love Joe. Add in a staff so impeccably-trained that a nod from Joe seems to spur them into action, void of need for words. It is quite amazing to see an establishment so well run that their ease with one another only heightens the experience you are having.
The Setting. Take one step into Cafe BarBosso and you’ll wonder if you entered through the doors of a distinguished art gallery. Well, in a way you have. The uniqueness in this restaurant not only lies in the top-quality cuisine, but also in the way guests can witness artists creating beautiful works of art, sometimes sold to those in attendance. This concept has been a hit for the group at Café BarBosso. Huge canvasses adorn nearly every square inch of the place, created by artists vetted by Chef Joe and the gang. From seasoned artists, to high school students to Ringling students on the verge of greatness, a variety of artists have come to Cafe BarBosso to paint. If you want to practice your art at his restaurant, you must be good and be able to fit in with the group there. He says he hasn’t met an introverted artist yet so that has worked out to everyone’s benefit. A modern, well-lit atmosphere with ultra-comfortable seating provides the perfect setting to tickle your palate. You’ll find Lauren, Joe’s right-hand woman and the restaurant’s General Manager, by the door, greeting guests and making sure all is well with the staff.
The Food. The food, the food, the food! Borrowing recipes from his youth and experiences he has had throughout his distinguished years, Chef Joe delivers on divine food that is simple yet breathtakingly elegant and delicious. Grandma’s Pizza has only four ingredients, and no cheese, so if your expectations are low, then shame on you. From the first bite, your taste buds say, “okay, we’re listening!” A delicacy of juicy tomatoes, Sicilian oregano, garlic and a simple crust have ruined me for cheese on a pizza again. Who knew? We quickly moved on to ten-layer eggplant parmesan whose layers stood at attention like little soldiers, somehow popping right back into their tangy-perfectly cooked spot, bite after bite. With a nod, Chef Joe requested somebody bring out the effing shrimp, also an ode to Grandma. (Can you picture Sundays at Joe’s Grandma’s? “Come on and eat the effing shrimp before it gets cold!”) Well, besides a great name the effing shrimp were so large and juicy, cooked with a perfect pink inside and a nicely seasoned outside with so much flavor I was reticent to swallow the bite, preferring to savor the tastes as long as possible. A creamy pasta Bolognese was warm and rich, with just the right thickness to marry the beef and pasta beautifully. An exquisite tiramisu ended the evening with such a lightness that I may have levitated out of there that night. The menu reads like a good book that you cannot put down, full of New York Italian specialty pizzas, mile-high salads, and delicate pastas tossed with homemade sauces. I am still having mouth-watering flashbacks of my evening sampling some of Chef Joe’s amazing dishes at Cafe BarBosso and I have two words for all of you. Go, tonight! For more information, please visit http://cafebarbosso.com/
5501 Palmer Crossing Circle, Sarasota (941) 922-7999
Photos courtesy of Cafe BarBosso