Thursday, April 26, 2018
Restaurants

Review: DeLucia bakery, cafe has appetizing start in downtown St. Pete

ST. PETERSBURG

I blew a transmission in Italy. I rode the clutch; I cannot lie. But it was the fallout that I found telling. Italians were willing to help me, they were willing to fix a car, rent me a new car, drive me somewhere, make me a snack, whatever. Just not, like, right now. Or any time soon. There was a word I kept hearing, often offered with shrugged shoulders or a flappy hand gesture. That word was domani. Translation: tomorrow.

Partners Raffaele Pagnotta and Fabrizio Picariello are taking it slow with DeLucia Italian Bakery Cafe. They are tinkering, not rushing into marketing or even having a website that lists a phone number or offers a menu. They have imported master baker Gianluca DeLucia to help with the pizza doughs, breads and Italian baked goods. They have taken coffeemaking intensives with Illy coffee. And at the beginning of April, they quietly opened with the assurance that the kinks will get worked out over time.

DeLucia doesn't look like anything else downtown: Sleek wooden tables have drapey beige runners, a room of tufted leather stools surround glass cubes in which Illy coffee equipment is decoratively displayed. There's an ordering counter and display case stacked with croissants, pastry-wrapped hot dogs, wraps and fat slices of pizza. Along another wall is a long, sleek espresso bar, the whole room with a hip, slightly industrial feel. The soundtrack is pure goofy Italian radio, the same kind of stuff I listened to while I was waiting for domani to come.

So what is it exactly? It's a coffeehouse pizza parlor cafeteria bakery. The best offerings are the whole pizzas (most $10.50), long rectangles that ably feed two people, not super thin-crusted and with a tangy, chunky tomato sauce. The by-the-slice options ($3-$3.50) are less successful because they are reheated, the cheese mantle never achieving its former glory and the crust suffering while it waits for a customer.

You order at the counter and then listen for your food and drink orders to come up (there's still confusion about whether servers come to you or vice versa — they'll work it out), and as time goes by, the whole-bread options (most loaves around $4) will expand. Already a display case of traditional Italian sugar cookies (half-pound for $6), with toppings from sprinkles to flaked coconut, make a great treat to take home (or back to the office if you need to suck up to your boss). The cookies are crisp, not too sweet and very buttery, their ideal accompaniment a stiff espresso ($2) or lush cappuccino ($3.50) made with super fragrant Illy grounds.

This newcomer represents the first U.S. franchise for DeLucia, which began in Benevento and has other locations in Rome, Milan and Dubai. In the same block as Starbucks, DeLucia will have some heavy lifting to do to become downtown's go-to coffee fix. In fact, the coffee is quite good, and much of the food, even the grab-and-go stuff, is superior to that at 'Bucks.

There is a rich wedge of layered eggplant Parmesan ($11.50) and a caprese salad ($11.50) that forgoes balsamic vinegar in favor of a very good, very fruity olive oil and a sprinkling of dried herbs (but watch the rosemary twigs, they can be pokey). And an array of traditional Italian tarts are worthy of serious investigation, especially the torta della nonna (grandma's tart; $4.50), which is an almond-scented custard on a delicate, flaky crust. Portions on the desserts are a bit generous for one person, but I can start that diet, you know, tomorrow.

Laura Reiley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter. She dines anonymously and unannounced; the Times pays all expenses.

     
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