Pazza Bistro invited a group of bloggers to come by to taste their food offerings last Wednesday night. A brief internet search told me that I was probably heading to one of those darkly lit mom and pop pasta places that have red and white checkered tablecloths with waiters speaking bad Italian as they bring out huge portions of boxed pasta and multiple courses of bread over a couple of hours. I’ve seen a lot of movies where people are killed in places like that, so I brought along my bulletproof vest just in case. I was pleasantly surprised (read slightly disappointed because I wanted to see if my bulletproof vest actually worked) to find that Pazza Bistro is none of this. The tables are bare, no tablecloths anywhere in sight. The storefront had huge windows that, if it wasn’t night, would’ve let tons of light in. The food wasn’t family style portions from a box, it was all made in house. But, for all you carb lovers/Italian traditionalists, fret not, Pazza Bistro does indeed have multiple courses of bread. But they also have so much more than that.
Pazza Bistro is a family owned business that originally opened in Gainesville. The owners had a vision of bringing freshly made pasta and sauces to families on the go. That meant they needed a product that was quick to make, fresh, and fit a family’s budget. When Pazza Bistro relocated from Gainesville to Pinellas Park the owners brought with them these three key ideas. You can’t get any fresher than Pazza Bistro (ok, well maybe Mazzaro’s). They make nearly all of their pasta, dressing and sauces in house. You can taste the difference. The pasta was silkier and softer than what you get from a box. It also had a more wheaty smell (I know, I wafted). Pazza Bistro offers you the option to take home their house made pasta for just 2 dollars a pound. Yep. You read that right. TWO DOLLARS A POUND! As a parting gift they sent us home with two bags of their pasta, a container of their pesto and Napoletana sauces and a container of their Parmesan Dressing.
Our pasta to go
Our Sauces and Dressings to Go
Pazza Bistro allows their patrons to pick the particular pasta and sauce that works best for them. They offer a number of classic sauces like Napoletana, Chili and Garlic, Alfredo, Pesto Genovese and Carbonara. They also have a few signature sauces including Bolognese, Creamy Pesto and Tricolore. You can pair these sauces with freshly made spaghetti, fettuccine, pappardelle or whole wheat fettuccine. Penne, gnocchi and gluten free pastas are available as well, they just aren’t made in house. The tasting included a variety of these sauces and pastas. The first one that was brought out was the fettucine with creamy pesto. This sauce combines Pazza’s homemade pesto and alfredo sauce with fresh spinach leaves. It was a pretty good dish. I loved the pasta which tasted perfectly textured even after being loaded up with sauce. It was definitely creamy, but it didn’t seem overdone (this coming from the person who doesn’t do creamy sauces ever).
Fettuccine with Creamy Pesto
The clear win, as far as pasta goes, was the whole wheat fettuccine with tricolore sauce. Pazza Bistro’s tricolore sauce was created when the chef was experimenting and decided to mix pesto, with alfredo and Napoletana. To finish it off, he then topped it with goat cheese. The other bloggers raved and revved about this sauce for the remainder of the night. I was impressed with the whole wheat pasta. It was nothing like the weird textured stuff I’ve been served previously by boxes/other restaurants. Had it not been slightly browner than the regular fettuccine, I don’t think I would’ve known that I was eating whole wheat. That is how much it didn’t stand out from the original.
Whole Wheat Fettuccine and Tricolore Sauce
The other two pastas were full of meat so I can’t tell you anything about those. Earlier in the evening we had the opportunity to sample some of the pizza offerings that Pazza Bistro have on tap. One of those pizzas was a vegetarian special of the month that was topped with Artichokes, Sundried Tomatoes and Spinach. It has been so popular with the customers that Pazza Bistro will be keeping it around even after the month is over. I thought the crust of the pizza was really good. It was nicely charred on the bottom but not to the point where it lost its doughiness inside. That is what a good pizza crust should be. As far as the toppings went, I love this trio together. But having not had cheese in months, I felt that the cheese actually distracted me from the toppings (which I really wanted to taste). But this is just me being cheeseless in a cheesy place. Most of the other bloggers raved about this pie being their favorite.
Sundried Tomato, Artichoke, Spinach Pizza
Next up was the Quattro Formaggi which is a tomato sauce pizza covered in mozzarella, gorgonzola, goat cheese and parmesan. I actually preferred this pizza because it wasn’t hiding anything. There weren’t any vegetable toppings drowning under the cheese begging me to taste them. Again, the crust was great, and these four cheeses blended together nicely. Amazing to say but I didn’t feel like there was too much cheese on this pizza at all. It shows the true restraint that Pazza Bistro has with their food. They don’t just throw a bunch of cheese on top thinking that will make everything better.
The Quattro Formaggi
Next out was a chicken pesto pizza. It sure looked like a masterpiece:
Chicken Pesto Pizza
The last pizza that was brought out, only because I requested it, was the Inferno Pizza. What would Pazza Bistro be without a nice food challenge? The Inferno Pizza is made by covering a crust with tomato based hot sauce (made in house of course). It is then covered by chopped jalapenos and habaneros. Another hot sauce, this one made with the dreaded ghost chili, is drizzled over top. The pizza is then sprinkled with ghost pepper powder. To properly complete the Inferno challenge and get your face on the Wall of Flame you need to finish the entire pizza in twenty minutes making sure that you lick both the pan and your fingers clean of any sauce/toppings. You are permitted only one glass of water during the twenty minutes and you have no access to a napkin. I was able to eat one slice (and I drank an entire glass of water just to combat it). My method? Shove it all in there before the hot hits.
The Inferno Pizza
And to finish the tasting…dessert. Pazza Bistro offers a minimal amount of desserts (and I’m okay with that, do one really well). On this evening we sampled the nutella pizza. This crust is cooked slightly less than their regular pizza so that it is more pillowy and soft. It is then covered by a nutella sauce and sprinkled with powdered sugar. It was a nice way to end the meal (and helped soothe my burning insides a bit).
The Nutella Dessert Pizza
The man of the evening. Chef extraordinaire who walked us through every dish.
Despite the fact that it is across the bay and a long way from where I live, I will be back to Pazza Bistro. J-Fur loves fresh pasta and she scarfed down what I brought home, so it will be fun to give her a taste of the restaurant. I would like to try some of the dishes, pizza and salad mainly, with my own eating style attached (are they any good without cheese?). As it is now, Pazza Bistro isn’t great for someone who doesn’t eat dairy. But it is awesome for vegetarians, celiacs, cheese lovers, meat lovers, seafood fans and hot sauce aficionados. If you fall into any of those categories, I recommend you give Pazza Bistro a try. Even Italian traditionalists will find something that they like. Just remember to bring your own checkered tablecloth.