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Largo's Untouchables Pizza and Pasta has mobster flair

From left, Nicole Mancusi, 28, and Samantha Barnes, 20, and their parents, Dave and Joanne Barnes, dish up pizza, pasta and gangster atmosphere at Untouchables Pizza in Largo. The restaurant is celebrating 20 years. The walls are covered in mobster memorabilia, and that legitimate businessman in the background is Guido, a mannequin armed with a tommy gun.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

From left, Nicole Mancusi, 28, and Samantha Barnes, 20, and their parents, Dave and Joanne Barnes, dish up pizza, pasta and gangster atmosphere at Untouchables Pizza in Largo. The restaurant is celebrating 20 years. The walls are covered in mobster memorabilia, and that legitimate businessman in the background is Guido, a mannequin armed with a tommy gun.

LARGO

The square, freestanding pizza shop at the intersection of Clearwater-Largo and Rosery roads is unbecoming on the outside. It blends with the nonchalance of a speakeasy storefront.

Beyond the tinted front door, from walls to rafters, the vibe is pinstripes and tommy guns, a black-and-white film reel romance with Prohibition gangsters, set to the smell of hot calzone crust rising in the background.

Pizza restaurants that exude character like John Dillinger did swagger seem to have died off like the famed mob years, replaced over the decades by dime-a-dozen chain joints.

But in Largo, as it has been doing for the past 20 years this month, Untouchables Pizza and Pasta has managed to preserve not only its distinct personality but survive at a time when many nearby businesses have shuttered.

The restaurant's story began in the summer of 1990, shortly after Joanne and David Barnes, then a young married couple in their 30s with 8-year-old and 6-month-old daughters, moved to Pinellas County from their native Chicago — mostly for the better weather.

The climate was indeed fairer, but something the Chicagoans knew and loved was not.

"We couldn't find a good pizza place," Joanne said.

She worked as a waiter. He at a car dealership.

Still, the couple had an idea. They should open their own pizzeria.

Joanne said the spirit of the time then seemed to be 1950s revival, malt and burger shops bedecked with poodle skirt flair.

As the area's current dearth of Fuddruckers can attest, that fad didn't last.

But like the original 1950s TV show Untouchables that plays on a constant loop on screens inside the restaurant (and was later made into a Hollywood hit), something about gangsters seemed enduring.

They went with that.

What began as a few newsprint headlines framed on the walls — "U.S. Agents Keep Capone Vigil," "3 Shot in Chicago Gangster War" — turned into a menagerie of all things mob and G-man.

The walls in the dining area are a veritable museum of memorabilia.

The theme over the years has been unwavering. And the restaurant, a sand castle for the not-quite Bonnie and Clyde.

On a family trip to Olde Towne in Kissimmee, David Barnes saw a mannequin in a store display he thought looked like the perfect gangster. He wanted it for his restaurant.

It wasn't for sale.

"Everything has a price," he told the store owner.

Holding a tommy gun, the dummy now sits in the restaurant.

"We call him Guido," David Barnes said. "Parents tell their kids, if you don't eat your food, this guy's going to get you."

While business has been slower lately — enough to still stay afloat, but down from most of the last two decades — the restaurant's regulars have stayed loyal, many of whom grew up eating at Untouchables.

Tiffany McKinney, 27, took karate lessons near the restaurant when she was a girl and ate there with her parents afterward. She now lives in St. Petersburg.

Dishes with names like "Godfather Special" and "Windy City White" have kept her coming back.

"I drive up here for the food," McKinney said, "so my kids can enjoy it too."

Dominick Tao can be reached at dtao@sptimes.com or (727) 580-2951.

Largo's Untouchables Pizza and Pasta has mobster flair 08/24/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 24, 2010 8:17pm]
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