(2009) Drawing upon 15 years in Sarasota running a downtown Italian-American trattoria, the locally famous five Caragiulo brothers have now opened a Caragiulo's in Bradenton. The new place seems roomier and the menu offers a few more options than the original Palm Avenue location, but the friendly service, comfortable surroundings, good wines and engaging movie posters on the wall are all the same.
The biggest difference is that this building (in a strip mall) came with a wood-burning pizza oven. The brothers were quick to capitalize on such an embarrassment of riches, and the pizza makers adjusted their technique to the luxury of the flame of wood. The wood oven produces a slightly smoky and quite crispy pizza on the top as well as bottom that cooks fast, in about four minutes. The Caragiulo style is to add a little semolina flour to the pizza dough, which means the pizza can stand up to the "tough" fire of wood. A traditional oven cooks pizza at 550 degrees. A wood-burning oven is roaring at 700 degrees. The resulting pizza pie is as good as it gets. Although the kitchen offers half a dozen pizzas with unusual combinations, such as Fredo's white clam concoction, guests are welcome to compose their own weird pizzas from a list of ingredients including feta cheese, broccoli, caramelized onions, even artichokes. Individual pizzas are $9, and you can add a house salad for an additional $3.
The brothers in charge, from oldest to youngest, are John, Mark, Robert, Anthony and Paul (the opera singer and bridegroom-elect). They've expanded the menu for the new location with the input of Bradenton general manager Randal Roulette, who's been an honorary brother for over a decade. But at the new trattoria women have a prominent place in the open kitchen. Kelly Pool is the chef de cuisine and Perette Cannady is the pastry chef. The desserts at this big-portion restaurant are well worth having, especially the bread pudding.
"Lobsta" pasta is one of the house specialties. A velvety basil-sherry cream sauce lightly hugs angel hair pasta and nuzzles lobster chunks, shitake mushrooms and bits of Roma tomatoes for a dish that's rich and toothsome for $18. Other entrées dressed for success include the piccata-style halibut with a risotto cake ($19), red snapper with garlic spinach, or the balsamic glazed pork tenderloin with mascarpone sweet potatoes for $17. Fine comfort food. There are about a dozen pasta dishes ($12-$18), including a nightly vegetarian preparation. All entrées and pasta dishes are served with a house salad.
Don't look for fusion experiments or "new" Italian cuisine at the Caragiulo table. The brothers' restaurant kitchen excels at traditional Italian-American favorites with a few seafood specialties that take advantage of the local catch and tourists' hunger for fish and shellfish.
Expect about a dozen wines by the glass from the Cal-Italia list that features bottles from about $29 to $70. Caragiulo's has a full-service bar separated from the dining room by a half wall, and live entertainment most nights. Like the Sarasota restaurant, this new enterprise is a lively place that promotes good food and good times at reasonable prices in a casual atmosphere. While the Sarasota place is usually bustling with young and middle-aged people, the Bradenton place appears to attract a wider generational sampling. We saw a fair amount of families with children at the newer Caragiulo's, all of them looking like they'd found just the place they wanted to be.
4726 Cortez Road W., Bradenton
Dinner: nightly, from 4:30 p.m.
Reservations for parties of six and more
Parking in mall lot