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Over Coffee

Sometimes, You Have to Try More Than the Coffee
Jan 22, 2009 - 11:09:24 AM

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While searching for new places to meet people so I can pick their brains for ideas for this column, I stumbled on a new addition to South County’s eateries, Sarducci’s Pizzeria.

Wondering how the place could have escaped my attention all the years I’ve lived in and written about the area, I went inside.

As it turns out, the restaurant- and it is definitely a restaurant, not just a pizzeria despite the name- just opened in December, once again validating my sanity as I have been in the plaza where Sarducci’s now stands many times and never seen it before.
Pete and Vickie Sarducci relax as their homemade sauces and pasta simmer in the kitchen of their newly-opened restaurant in Apollo Beach Penny Fletcher Photo

Located at 118 Flamingo Drive in Apollo Beach, the restaurant is true to its name as it does make specialty pizzas, but it also puts out full meals, subs and salads.
When I introduced myself, I was not only offered a pizza to try but homemade spaghetti and meatballs made from co-owner Pete Sarducci’s family recipe. I was also given the story of how Pete’s parents and older siblings came to America from Palermo, Sicily. He was the first in his family to be American born.

With them they brought the old Sicilian recipes they use in their restaurant.
Having grown up on the Jersey Shore, you’d think I’d know all about Italian food. I mean, just because I’m an Irish-German-American Indian raised by a British Protestant and her Jewish husband doesn’t mean all my years in school with friends named Beradesco and Roselli and Alfonse went to waste.

Some of my most vivid high school memories (in Asbury Park, also the stomping grounds of Bruce “Boss” Springsteen and Danny DeVito) are of spending nights with my friend JoAnna Genovese and sitting by Mama Genovese’s huge gas stove drinking coffee and talking and smelling the aroma of whatever was already cooking in the pots by the time  we got up.

Tasting the pasta at Sarducci’s was kind of like that and I soon found we had more than pasta in common. Those of you who follow my columns know my late husband was a commercial fisherman put out of business by the net ban of 1992.
Both Pete and his wife, Vickie, co-owner of the restaurant, come from commercial fishing roots.

As I ate (and drank coffee) the couple related a story illustrated by wall maps of the different areas of Italy that explained the specialties each had of food and wine. Imagine, all those nights at the Genovese’s and I didn’t know there was a big difference in what was cooked in various parts of Italy. I’d always thought Italian food was Italian food.

As Pete and Vickie talked, I could picture Pete’s parents leaving Sicily and passing through Ellis Island as I had often pictured my parents’ long sea journey finally arriving at “The Island” and then making it to the Jersey side as far as Keyport.
Pete’s parents settled in Gloucester, Mass. because when in Italy the men in the family had been commercial fishermen. In later years, they’d gone on to catch salmon and herring on the West Coast from California to Washington State where Pete met and married Vickie, whose father and grandfather were commercial fisherman too.

The net bans affected Pete’s living in the ‘90s too, and since we both understood that,  made for interesting conversation.

After the ban, Pete turned to the other thing he knew best: food. His family had brought recipes from Sicily for homemade sauces and calzones; sausages and chicken, and enough pasta recipes to make me avoid the scale for a year.

His specialty though, is one he made up himself, his pasta Palermo, named for his family’s place of origin.

Before coming to Florida, he’d had two restaurants in California, a seafood restaurant and an Italian deli shop, but a few years ago took a job at the Port of Tampa as a shipyard supervisor.

After moving, the couple, along with their son, Anthony, first opened a restaurant in Ruskin and only recently relocated to Apollo Beach. Vickie takes a catering truck to the shipyard for lunch and dinner and keeps the restaurant open from Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. with the help of three employees.

Soon Pete said he plans to quit the shipyard and run the restaurant full time, bringing even more old recipes to life.

“We don’t skimp on ingredients,” Pete said. “Every meal is cooked from scratch at any time of day whether somebody wants lunch or dinner, it doesn’t matter.
“Mama” flies in from California regularly. Having grown up in Sicily, I’m sure she enjoys the red-white and green décor that matches the Italian flags and checkered tablecloths.

And to think I just stopped by for coffee. It always amazes me how much you can learn about people in 45 minutes to an hour. That’s the best thing about this job- meeting new people like “you.”

*Perhaps you have something you’d like to share. Or maybe you’d rather tell the community about your favorite charity or cause: or sound off about something you think needs change. That’s what “Over Coffee” is about. It really doesn’t matter whether we actually drink any coffee or not (although I probably will). It’s what you have to say that’s important. E-mail me any time,, and suggest a meeting place. No matter what’s going on, I’m usually available to share just one more cup.

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