Food & Drink

New to Manatee restaurant scene, this family-owned cafe offers traditional Italian cuisine

The family that owns the recently opened Villa Italia Cafe has a long restaurant tradition.

Just as important, the family is patient.

They wanted to make sure that everything was just right — from the lasagna to the pizza to the linguini pescatore, as well as the restaurant setup and the staff training — before broadcasting the restaurant was open.

Nine months after opening, Eugenio Rizzo, his wife Fallon and his mother Shelly, are ready.

Moreover, Villa Italia Cafe, located at 2808 10th St. W. in Palmetto, is ready.

A sampling of the menu confirms that, yes, the wait was worthwhile, as is the drive almost to Snead Island.

Chef Eugenio Rizzo holds a platter of Linguini Pescatore, which is mussles, clams, and shrimp sauteed in special sauce, served over linguini pasta. James A. Jones Jr.

“Even though we didn’t advertise that we were open, word got around on social media that the food was like what you would get in Italy,” Eugenio Rizzo said.

The menu covers the alphabet from antipasti (basically, appetizers such fried calamari and eggplant) to zuppa (soups).

The Taste of Italia menu most likely includes your Italian favorites, whether it’s scampi, marsala, parmigiana and more, generally starting at about $18.95.

Also on the menu: seafood selections, pizza, pizza rolls, subs, pasta and baked pasta, as well as a kids menu.

“Everything is cooked to order. If a table gets six chicken marsalas, each chicken is sauteed in its own pan,” Rizzo said.

Rounding out the menu are cannoli, cheese cake and Italian specialty desserts. Ask the server for details on what is available.

A sampling of the cuisine at Villa Italia Cafe, 2808 10th St. W., Palmetto, includes favorites like lasagna, calzone, pizza, and linguini pescatore, among others. James A. Jones Jr.

Eugenio Rizzo is only 31, but his mother Shelly says he has been cooking since he was 13. He clearly knows his way around the kitchen.

Shelly Rizzo’s specialty is pizza.

“I learned from my husband, Tommaso, when he was making pizza,” she said.

Eugenio Rizzo is the first generation of his family born in the United States. His parents were born in Palmermo, Sicily, and emigrated to the United States with their families when they were teens.

Tommaso Rizzo opened a chain of Pizza USA restaurants in the Northeast, enough to allow each of his 14 brothers and sisters to have one to operate.

“He taught everybody how to cook,” Eugenio Rizzo said.

What is it about Italian cuisine that makes it so popular?

“It’s very versatile. You have light dishes, heavy dishes and pasta. The bruschetta (toasted sliced bread serves with marinated tomatoes) is filling but light. There are phenomenal flavors in Italian cuisine,” Eugenio Rizzo said.

“Mom makes the pizza and I’m in the kitchen sauteeing and cooking,” he said.

The family owned-and-operated Villa Italia Cafe, 2808 10th St. W., Palmetto offers traditional Italian cuisine. James A. Jones Jr.

Completing the division of labor, Fallon Rizzo serves as manager and runs the dining room.

Fallon and Eugenio have one daughter, named Shellianna after his mother, in the Sicilian tradition.

The Rizzos have lived in Manatee County since the 1990s and previously owned Villa Sorrento in downtown Bradenton, a restaurant that is now closed. Eugenio Rizzo is a graduate of Manatee High School.

Villa Italia Cafe has seating for 150 and offers dining in, take out and catering. The restaurant is open from 4 p.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and from 4 p.m.-9 p.m. Sunday. The restaurant is closed on Mondays.

For more information, call 941-304-3272 or visit the cafe’s Facebook page.

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