Creative Cuisine Café Barbosso
Gourmet fare is served in a gallery space at Café BarBosso—a hot spot with a bustling, bohemian scene not seen elsewhere in Sarasota.
On the menu are “Italian peasant” dishes with deep family roots and recipes. On the floor is Chef Joe DiMaggio Jr.—a culinary mastermind whose arsenal of anecdotes is as flavorful as his cuisine. He can be found visiting guests from table to table, sharing stories about his years in New York City or his time cooking for Al Pacino on the set of Scarface. While he talks, local artists paint live at easels, and for-sale canvases blanket the restaurant walls.
The café has the ambiance of a bigger city. And it tastes like a million cities, as DiMaggio pulls from a trove of global flavors to round out his specialties.
“We’re a restaurant that takes food and the arts seriously, not ourselves. We love to have fun with our customers,” DiMaggio says. “The art is our music—our entertainment for the guests—plus, we’re helping talented artists get recognized. And the chef interaction lets our guests know that we are on top of our game.”
Chef tastings amount to 25 to 30 percent of the café’s business, he says, and a five- or six-course tasting creates the ultimate dining experience. DiMaggio is proficient in more than 35 cultural cuisines, and he has cooked and consulted across the globe. He studied under two-star Michelin chef Jacques Maximin at the Negresco Hotel in Nice, France; and under chef Roger Verge at Hotel San Raphael in Cannes. He also apprenticed at Ma Maison in Hollywood, California, under Patrick Terrail and Wolfgang Puck.
Some of DiMaggio’s current menu staples include 10-Layer Eggplant (with béchamel Parmigiano, fresh mozzarella cheese, and marinara sauce); Chopped Lobster and Angel Hair Pasta (with roasted garlic and Chardonnay sauce); Grandma’s Spaghetti and Meatballs; and Stuffed Hot Peppers. Many of the flavor formulas were introduced to DiMaggio in his youth.
“As a chef, I was blessed to have both of my grandmothers into my 30s, and they cooked into their 90s. I had one peasant grandmother and one Northern Italian grandmother,” DiMaggio says. “They both taught me how to extract maximum flavors with a few ingredients.”
An example of this flavor extraction is the Eggs in Purgatory dish (as DiMaggio says, “My earliest food memory as a child is ‘This is a delicious dish!’”) It is a blend of chili-infused San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, farm-fresh eggs poached in the sauce, and crusty bread. His Peasant Grandmother’s Pizza is another family favorite, with only four ingredients and no cheese.
Other coveted café items include Arancini Rice Balls stuffed with Bolognese meat, peas, mozzarella, and San Marzano marinara; Garlicky Shrimp with parsley butter and lemon-garlic butter; Grilled Octopus with lemon potatoes, arugula, red onion, and basil vinaigrette; and Burrata Salad with heirloom beets, heirloom tomatoes, white balsamic vinegar, and basil vinaigrette.
The main ingredients on the menu at Café BarBosso are as integral to the eatery’s success as the main players on staff, including partners Sherry, Tom, and Bob Koski; DiMaggio, the chef, managing partner, and artist; Lauren Loison, the general manager; and Shawn Cahall, the executive chef. Featured live artists include Ha Pham, Dante Ferraro, Tom Ruthz, Karen Chandler, and Eric Kagin.
“We go above expectations and deliver a global variety of off-the-menu selections that surpass the Italian genre,” DiMaggio says. “People should have no fear. When it comes to our food, our wait staff is passionate regarding the food we create and should be trusted when selections are offered.”
And what of the Café BarBosso moniker? The locale is named after Frank “Frankie Bumps” BarBosso, “a nice Italian guy from Little Italy in New York City” (as DiMaggio puts it) whose restaurant, Little Charlie’s, served the best veal and eggplant in town.
When DiMaggio was a young boy in the 1960s, he played stickball with his friends in front of Little Charlie’s, and Frankie Bumps would bet on his games. Whenever DiMaggio’s team lost, he had to wash dishes, clean windows, and sweep at Little Charlie’s, and he would tell Frankie when the police were watching his place.
To honor his old friend who got him his start in the kitchen, DiMaggio created Café BarBosso. In 1988, Frankie was incarcerated for life but he stills claims to be innocent. He is proud that his name lives on and that his food is immortalized by DiMaggio.
The restaurant’s appropriate motto? “Eat, Laugh and Love or Else.”
Café BarBosso: 5501 Palmer Crossing Circle, Sarasota 941- 922-7999; cafebarbosso.com.