Deep in the heart of Ballast Point stands a small, unassuming cottage. From the outside, the building looks like an old family home. On the inside, however, hand-spun cheeses and flame throwing chefs mark it as anything but.
For the past three years, Antonio Casamento has quietly entertained Tampa’s most sophisticated palates from behind these walls. After dining in his living room-style restaurant, though, I’ve decided it’s time for his talent to be revealed to the masses.
5712 S MacDill Ave, foodies, is not a house—it’s Beccofino.
And another secret? It’s one of the best Italian spots in the Tampa Bay region.
An international scratch kitchen
“When I first came to Tampa,” Antonio said with a thick European accent, “I couldn’t find real Italian stuff anywhere, so I decided to bring it myself.”
Back in his early Florida days, Antonio was known as the “first person” to “make buffalo mozzarella from scratch” in the states. Today, he’s expanded that handmade focus into a full scale restaurant serving all different Italian staples. From smoked meats to fresh pasta—and the peppercorns adorning them—everything in Beccofino is homegrown or handcrafted by Antonio and his staff.
Well, he says, except for the chairs.
“This is not an ‘authentic’ Italian restaurant,” Antonio explained. “Every restaurant around here wants to call themselves ‘authentic’ just to bring people in. At Beccofino we serve ‘legit’ Italian food. The real thing. We will make you feel like you are in downtown Florence.”
He handed me a menu boasting quail, bronze-tinted pasta and more.
“And without anything ‘extra’ on the plate.”
Giant cheese wheels, sizzling meats and hot pans of flames
Now, when Antonio says he doesn’t put “anything extra” on his plates, he literally doesn’t put anything extra on his plates. There are no superfluous garnishes, flowers or bland sauces for “decoration.” Every component of his dishes are edible and there with a purpose. This, he advocates, is the traditional Italian way.
Despite the simplicity of the finished product of Beccofino’s plates, however, they are not simple in preparation. In fact, that part is actually quite showy. Unlike the other Italian restaurants in Tampa, many of spot’s best dishes are prepared tableside by Antonio himself—complete with giant cheese wheels, sizzling meats and blazing pans of fire.
Last night, I watched as Antonio delicately mixed bucatini pasta inside of a slowly melting wheel of parmesan. Hot, blue flames rose from the cheese bowl and filled the air with the sharp scent of age.
Those who are familiar with European cuisine would instantly be able to recognize this as “Cacio e Pepe,” a classic roman dish that translates to “cheese and pepper.” Years ago, Antonio was the first person to bring the plate to Tampa. To this day, his restaurant remains one of the only ones to prepare it directly in the cheese itself.
The tableside menu
If that cacio e pepe sounds good to you, there are plenty of other dishes that Beccofino whips up tableside. Here are a few of the best:
- Filetto al Pepe Verde – A 10oz filet mignon flambéed in cognac and topped with a creamy green peppercorn sauce
- Farfalle alla Natasha – Fresh bowtie pasta and house-made smoked salmon (a notably rare find in the south) tossed in caviar-loaded vodka sauce
- Paccheri alla Carbonara – My personal favorite item on the menu, this dish features bronze died paccheri (which is essentially jumbo rigatoni), egg yolk, thick-cut bacon cheek, and house pecorino. If the world were ending tomorrow, I’d want this to be my last meal
The kitchen menu
Though Beccofino’s tableside dishes are exciting, there are simply some foods that can’t be lit on fire—no matter how much your Instagram story wants them to be. In order to optimize your tasting experience, I’d recommend ordering some of these entrées as well.
These are my top picks from “behind closed doors”:
- Tagliere – Charcuterie – Antonio is pretty much known for his homemade cured meats and cheeses, so this plate—which features a vast sampling of each—is an absolute must-try
- Branzino al Cartoccio – When it comes to Beccofino’s fish, it’s all flavor with no frills. True to Mediterranean culture, their branzino is simply rolled in parchment paper and baked to perfection
- Torta della Nonna – If you’re unfamiliar with Italian desserts, the torta della nonna is a traditional egg custard pie on a shortbread cookie crust. Beccofino’s version (which is the only one in Tampa) is warm, indulgent and the best I’ve found in the states
Serving the “real” deal
If you’re ready to ditch your local “authentic” Italian restaurant for the “real” food of Tuscany and Sicily, it’s time to make a reservation at Beccofino.
Inside of Antonio’s brick cottage, you won’t get any caprese, garlic bread or fettucine alfredo. You’ll get—in his words—a “#legititalianexperience.”
Beccofino Italian Bistro is located at 5712 S MacDill Ave in Tampa. To make a reservation, foodies can click here or call the restaurant (recommended) at (813) 898-0804.
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