CLEARWATER — Classic Italian food, fine wine, warm hospitality. That's what patrons of Bellini Restaurant on Dunedin's Main Street came to expect — right up until it abruptly closed in July.
"Dunedin's going to miss them a lot," said Mike Rey, owner of a hair salon across the street.
Now a version of Bellini has come to downtown Clearwater. Same chef, same menu, different name.
Casanova Restaurant & Lounge, which opened last week at 811 Cleveland St., hopes to attract the same crowd. Clearwater leaders regard this as a major coup.
Partners Raffaele Rugo and Ciro Mancini, who was the chef and manager at Bellini, are offering fine dining in an upscale setting — chandeliers, linen napkins, valet parking, a 3,000-bottle wine cellar, live music Wednesday through Saturday nights, and outdoor dining on a patio intended to resemble a Venetian piazza.
"The atmosphere is very elegant, but it's also relaxed. Customers come in after a golf game or the beach," Rugo said. "It's that laid-back Italian pace where you take your time."
Bellini closed suddenly because of a rift between partners and a dispute with the landlord.
So why did Rugo and Mancini choose this new spot across from a Walgreens at the eastern end of downtown's heavily landscaped Cleveland Street District?
"I've been a Clearwater resident for a decade and a half," Rugo said. "We've had the necessities, but we haven't had anything like this."
"The city helped us quite a bit," Mancini added.
They got an $85,000 city grant for the restaurant build-out. But they also say they spent three-quarters of a million dollars to get the place ready.
Times staff writer Mike Brassfield can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4160.