RIVERVIEW — Ryan McGough knows all about what he calls "the dark side" of restaurants — chains.
McGough worked for a recognizable restaurant, one he would rather not name, for more than 10 years. Now he boasts about California fun and flavors by way of New York.
McGough and his Ciccio Restaurant Group partners found Winthrop Town Centre an ideal location for Ciccio Cali, an innovative, health-infused approach hoping to find a home among all the national chains dotting the Brandon area landscape.
Ciccio Cali enjoyed a soft opening March 6 and invites patrons to its grand opening Saturday (March 22) beginning at 10 a.m.
"We are trying hard to be part of the community," McGough said.
It's a formula the Ciccio team introduced in St. Petersburg 10 years ago and that goes back to 1990 in New York, where it opened as an Italian eatery. Ciccio partner Matthew Lanza said the name pays homage to his grandfather, Frank, a loose translation in Italian.
The Florida version of Ciccio features less Italian and more California fusion; hence the addition of the term Cali as the group opens its third restaurant in Florida and plans a fourth in Sarasota.
"We want to bring something new and unique to the area," said Lanza, 31.
Known for its $10 bowls, diners pick their base (rice, faro, noodles or spaghetti squash) and then their flavor. McGough says the hot and crunchy tuna bowl serves like a "deconstructed sushi roll." While chopsticks are provided, forks are not frowned upon.
Newbies, many of whom come for the vegan, gluten-free and high-protein options, can sample the various bowls on $2 Tuesdays, where smaller portions are served after 5 p.m. on flatbread. Mentioning that you're a first-time patron at Ciccio Cali comes with a freshly made cookie.
While bowls are the staple, wraps and stir fry options abound. Dairy- or gluten-free fare is clearly marked. Bring the little ones, too. The kids can order macaroni and cheese or quesadillas. Pets get a bowl of water when they sit on the patio.
"If you come for lunch, your made-to-order food will be at your table in under 10 minutes," said McGough, something he says chains aren't set up to be able to execute.
Ciccio Cali offers open seating for nearly 100 inside, including 14 barstools, tables and booths. The beer and wine bar has eight flavors on tap, including six craft beers, and 20 bottled beers. The daring can try the Maxmosa, a mimosa served in a hefty goblet complete with an upside-down champagne bottle.
Winthrop residents and fitness trainers receive a 10 percent discount, but if you are not into the healthier trends, you can opt for the chicken Marsala pasta or Tuscan pizza, fired in brick ovens straight from Italy.
"I think we are introducing a lot of food options here," said chef Ryan Mitchell, formerly of Fleming's.
The 3,000-square-foot restaurant, next to the Egg & I, at 11230 Sullivan St., has a casual feel during the day, a full-service dinner culture, and brunch on the weekend from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. with live music on the 45-seat patio.
Five TVs, usually tuned to sports, are throughout the dining room and patio. The restaurant, which created more than 50 jobs, also offers catering.
The grand opening, which coincides with the Winthrop Arts Festival, is slated to include a bounce house, magician, stilt walker and live music.
Eric Vician can be reached at [email protected]