Heading east on State Road 50, where the road shrinks to two lanes past Interstate 75, travelers could rightly worry that they've passed the last place to eat for a while.
But folks are in for a treat a couple of miles down the road, where, at the southwest corner of SR 50 and U.S. 301, a freshly bricked, mansard-roofed trattoria beckons.
The grand opening sign still catches the breeze. But it assures that cooks and the wait staff at Zifero's Pizza & Diner have ironed out the wrinkles.
Allen Zifer operated a take-out pizza place in Ridge Manor from 1993 to 1995, then worked a stint in Sumter County law enforcement.
"I didn't have any problems," said Zifer, 43, "but I wanted to be my own boss again."
He and his wife, Tammie, opened the dine-in and carry-out emporium — the only full-service restaurant in Ridge Manor proper — in November.
Italian cooking is in Zifer's genes. And his great-grandmother's recipes — brought from Calabria, Italy — are in his file.
Zifer's grandmother, Josephine — "She's famous back in Dover, Ohio, for her restaurant," says her grandson — taught him how to make and handle dough, bake various breads, season tomato-based sauces and replicate a plump, tasty meatball.
The family name was shortened from Ziffero on their immigration to the United States, but Allen Zifer reinstated an "o" for the diner to let people know that his cooking is authentic Italian.
Pizza in nine specialties leads Zifero's menu and sales, the owner said. Grandma Zifer may never have tasted buffalo chicken pizza, one of the nine, but she'd certainly recognize its blanket of ricotta and mozzarella. For a basic pizza, Zifero's lists the availability of 16 toppings, from extra cheese to spinach or pineapple.
Among 10 varieties of hot and cold sandwiches, all served on home-baked bread, Zifer said customers' favorites include the hot steak and cheese sub and the pressed Cuban, both with generous fillings.
The menu includes "super" calzones, according to Dawn Badami of the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce, plus appetizers, spaghetti, salads, ice cream and beverages. A chalk board announces daily specialties.
Full-time chef Jason Guy, a former sous chef at Cheval in Lutz, reigns in the kitchen while Tammie Zifer oversees the 24-seat front of the house. Allen Zifer said he is "usually at the oven." About five part-time employees make up the interchangeable-assignment staff. Dad, Ken Zifer, lends a hand, especially when early morning baking demands are great.
Travelers patronize the diner, but the mainstays are locals among the 4,000-plus residents of Ridge Manor who otherwise would need to drive to the I-75 interchange or to Dade City for dining opportunities.
In the near future, Zifer said, he hopes to take his business off-site, under a sizable tent, maybe to high school sporting events, where he would turn over some of the proceeds to the school's athletic teams.
Beth Gray can be contacted at [email protected]