Sarasota is home to what seems like tens of thousands of Italian restaurants, but only one piadineria—an eatery that specializes in the piada, a flatbread beloved in Emilia-Romagna, a region in north-central Italy. Chef Sara Valeri and her husband, Ken Doyle, opened Piada Mania in a small south Sarasota space last year.
Valeri comes from the area around Ravenna, near the Adriatic coast. For centuries, she says, the region was a poor, agricultural community, where workers had little time to fix dinner and so turned to quick-fix doughs that didn’t need time to rise. Every village and every nonna had their own variations, of course, but a basic piada was made by mixing just flour, water, salt and milk or lard. Cooks then flattened the dough into a wide circle and tossed it onto a griddle—often a terra cotta surface suspended over an open flame—and bent it in half around a few simple ingredients.
Over the centuries, the dish has spread throughout the rest of Italy, but it’s still identified with Emilia-Romagna, where beachside and roadside kiosks serve the piada as a tasty handheld street food. Valeri makes hers by mixing two types of flour with different gluten levels and adding baking powder and water.
Her “classic romagnola” ($9) is packed with creamy stracchino cheese, arugula and prosciutto. The dough is soft and malleable, but has an almost cracker-like exterior and a toasted, malty flavor that’s distinct from yeasty pizza dough or bread. Something new in the world of Italian cuisine? Sign us up.