Making a great pizza is an art; just ask the chef at Joe's Pizza Cafe in Bradenton

MANATEE -- Making great pizzas and other Italian cuisine is an art, says restaurateur Joseph Romeo Di San Tillo.

It's one the Naples, Italy native has crafted for the past 40 years, starting as a cleanup boy in the kitchen of his father's Naples restaurant and then as the chef/owner/manager of dozens of eateries in New York, New Jersey and Florida.

He has now opened Joe's Pizza Cafe, a casual dining pizzeria at 5215 14th St. W., where he makes his own pizza dough and hand tosses his New York style pizza.

The menu also includes appetizers, salads, philly cheese steaks, burgers, calzones and stromboli, and Italian entrees like veal parmigiana, shrimp marinara and baked manicotti.

Romeo Di San Tillo said he went to the best culinary school in the world.

"My dad," he said.

All of his four siblings are involved in Italian restaurants. The family immigrated to the United States in the 1970s and landed in Brooklyn, N.Y.

He always enjoyed Florida and took vacations here with his family. He finally relocated here and opened restaurants in Venice,Lakeland and Longboat Key.Some have been casual dining

and others fine dining.

With the economy still struggling and Romeo Di San Tillo getting older, he decided to downsize and opened Joe's Pizza Cafe nine months ago.

The 28-seat restaurant is building a word-of-mouth clientele, offering dishes that range from $8.95 to $14.95 and lunch and early bird specials.

"It's going to take a while but I'll get it," he says with a smile. He knows, he says, because of his skills and abilities.

Before opening the restaurant, the Bradenton chef visited some of his competition to test their cuisine.

"I knew I had them," he said with a smile.

One of his customers, Jackie Carley of New York, agrees he doesn't have to worry.

"His food is amazing," she said. "It's the best pizza I've had since I've been down here."

Susan Newman also is a big fan. She operates a beauty salon in the same small shopping center where the restaurant is located and frequents Joe's often.

"My kids had the Philly steak and cheese the other day and loved it," she said.

Restaurant hours are 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10:30 a.m. through 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and closed on Sundays.