Santoro’s Pizzeria is now open at 1329 W Cass Street, and the pizza hub is serving up New Jersey-style slices in the city of Tampa.
Santoro’s Pizzeria, on W Cass Street, is one of the hottest new restaurants in the Bay, but—if you’re a foodie—you already know that. In fact, you were probably part of the 243 pie orders that sold the no-frills joint out of dough on their very first weekend. What you don’t know, however, is the relentless, sweat-filled grind that brought this pizza powerhouse to life. Last night, I met with owner, Travis Kaiser, to get all the details.
Sitting at a bright, hand-painted picnic table, I dove into a sloppy pepperoni slice as Travis dove into his backstory. “I was working for a corporate restaurant group before this, and my cousin Ralph was making pizzas with our family up north. I knew Tampa needed a quality slice, and I wanted to bring that, so I bought this place on loan. I felt really confident.”
He waved to a rowdy crowd of college boys as they headed, arms full of to-go boxes, out the door. Letting his eyes linger on the front window, Travis shook his head with an exhausted laugh, “And then COVID hit. And there went the money.”
“So,” I prompted, “What did—”
“—I bought a jackhammer,” he responded, one step ahead of me. “And I turned to my cousin and told him we were gonna shovel dirt and carry bricks. We didn’t have any money, but we still had a dream.”
8 months, and 40 lost pounds, later, the team had a completed, built-by-hand restaurant. Symbolic of the labor of love that went into its manifestation, and the hopes that it would someday become a neighborhood family spot, Travis gave the humble pizzeria its name; Santoro’s, after his first-born son.
A star-studded soft-opening
Now, here’s the thing about passionate people: they attract other passionate people. So, when Travis excitedly opened Santoro’s doors to the public, equally eager foodies rushed in, filling the handcrafted benches with energy and anticipation. By the end of the first weekend, the restaurant had completely run out of dough.
Passion alone, however, doesn’t fuel a restaurant, and in the first few weeks of its existence, Santoro’s had grabbed the attention of major news networks, professional athletes, and social media stars. Curious what’s behind this unprecedented smash hit?
Easy answer: An authentic, boardwalk-style New Jersey menu. And, as a Jersey-born native, I’m here to tell you exactly what makes that so great.
Bringing New Jersey boardwalk fare to Tampa
So, it’s no secret that Tampa’s got plenty of “New York”-style pizzerias, but New Jersey pizza is different. With a saltier cheese/sauce blend, the use of fine herbs, and a cornmeal-dusted thin crust so greasy it nearly flops in your hand, the Jersey slice is completely packed with flavor. In my opinion, it’s by far the superior pie. Seriously, ask any kid in Jersey what they’re favorite food is. 11/10 will say pizza.
But New Jersey is known for more than just cheesy slices. In fact, they’ve also got a bagel game to rival the Big Apple. And, at Santoro’s, they serve up the boardwalk’s most-ordered bagel: the Taylor ham, egg, and cheese sandwich.
If you grew up in the Garden State, you’re either:
- Already salivating
- Adamantly insisting that it’s “pork roll,” egg, and cheese
And if you didn’t grow up in Jersey, you’re:
To clear things up for the latter, Taylor ham (or pork roll, it’s a regional debate) is a pork-based northern delicacy that tastes absolutely nothing like traditional ham. If I had to compare it to something, it may be closer to spam, or a firm scrapple, though neither of those fully capture its essence. It’s salty, juicy, and super tender, and it tastes phenomenal stacked high with melted American cheese between each slice. Take that meat and layer it with fluffy eggs on a grilled bagel, and you’ve got another stellar reason to get to Santoro’s ASAP.
Zeppoles, cannolis, and Nutella pie
No boardwalk visit is complete without dessert, and, lucky for visitors, the Santoro’s team has put extra care into bringing the best of the northern shores to the Bay. Two of these quintessential, nostalgic offerings include zeppoles and Philadelphia Water Ice.
For those unfamiliar with either, zeppoles are indulgently deep fried dough balls covered in powdered sugar. Philadelphia Water Ice, on the other hand, refers to a regional Italian ice brand that is known for its thick, fruity flavors. My favorite is the mango, thus I’d strongly recommend it to first-timers looking to cleanse their post-pizza palette with something sweet.
In addition to boardwalk treats, Santoro’s also offers cannolis and a “Nutella Pizza,” both of which pay homage to New Jersey’s largely Italian roots.
Authenticity is key
Over an hour after my pizza had left the plate, and long after my bagel sandwich had disappeared into the depths of my stomach, Travis and I were still chatting away on his personally painted green benches. Behind the counter, the kitchen guys playfully slugged each other on the back while shouting inside jokes across the space.
It was in this late-night moment that I realized it was never the food itself that made New Jersey’s pizzerias, delis, and diners so great, but rather the authentic, “come-as-you-are” environment that characterized them.
And, with a Jersey boy at its core, Santoro’s is no exception.
Foodies can visit Santoro’s Pizzeria at 1329 West Cass St., or place take-out orders by calling (813) 687-7100. The team is also planning to launch a delivery service through Uber Eats in the near future. For updates on this service—and current menu offerings—diners can visit https://santorospizzeria.com/