Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Restaurant review: Get baked at St. Petersburg's Cafe DeLucia

A new St. Pete spot rises to the occasion.

Posted By on Wed, Jul 23, 2014 at 12:13 PM

****
click to enlarge GOLDEN TREATS: Cafe DeLucia's baked goods are the stars of the show. - CHIP WEINER
  • Chip Weiner
  • GOLDEN TREATS: Cafe DeLucia's baked goods are the stars of the show.

The good news is that the Italian Bakery DeLucia is absolutely wonderful and a great addition to the ‘Burg’s culinary scene. The less good news is that the rest of the Cafe menu is a bit ho-hum. Luckily, they’re committed to using only the freshest organic ingredients imported from Italy. The goal is an authentic Italian experience with no substitutions, unless they are able to match the quality and taste of the Italian original. It’s a casual place where you place your order at the cashier, take a number and then pick up your items. They also offer table service, but it’s a bit haphazard as the servers also run the counter.

The bread is all baked fresh daily using organic sourdough starter, and it shows; the crust is wonderful, with a crumb that’s open and displays plenty of nice tang. We decide the best way to take the bread for a ride and also test their Italian street cred is to start with bruschetta. DeLucia tops the outstanding bread with chunky ripe tomato and fresh, fruity extra virgin olive oil that I find arresting, but while I’m reveling in the EVOO, my table is simultaneously whining and lamenting the lack of zip — “Not enough garlic. Where’s the salt? Needs balsamic.” Seems I travel with a tough crowd.

The Italian Street Sandwich also features their great bread. The flavor core, given its name, is not surprisingly that greatest of Italian meats. prosciutto. Add a slice of sharp provolone, some peppery arugula, and a few bits of artichoke. Apply heat and let the flavors meld as the bread crisps, and you’ve got a combo you’d be happy to encounter on any Via Roma.

Conversely, the eggplant parmigiana is mushy and, while not tasteless, it’s far from memorable. It’s just generic Italian that you’ve had many times before. The same is true with the lasagne. All the elements are in place (tomato sauce, meat, eggs, béchamel), but the noodles are soggy and there’s little sauce. Nothing is elevated to make your palate stand up and take notice.

The Margherita pizza with no basil is also a mixed bag. The menu states that the herb is included “when available.” I know they want authentic ingredients, but without basil of some sort, there’s just no pop. I know from my own herb garden that it’s possible to source fresh herbs year round, so the absence of basil is just puzzling. The pizza crust manages to be properly crisp — something that so many pizza shops fall short of achieving — but despite the presence of a decent tomato sauce with nice acidity to balance ample slices of creamy mozzarella, this pie falls short.

click to enlarge DeLucia's limoncello cake. - CHIP WEINER
  • Chip Weiner
  • DeLucia's limoncello cake.

So after a slow start, we are raptly attentive as the sampler of baked goods we select arrives at our table. Could the sweets save the day? Fortunately, the answer is a resounding YES. Every single item we try is top of the line, as arresting as most of what came before was not.

The limoncello cake is exceptionally moist, and the cream filling between the layers highlights everything that is wonderful and lemony about the famous Italian liqueur. If you’re not familiar with limoncello, suffice it to say that it packs a punch and was responsible for embarrassing George Clooney and Danny DeVito when they overindulged. Luckily, dessert is a safe place to appreciate its allure. DeLucia’s cake isn’t tall, but it is multi-layered, with plenty of room for the juxtaposition of cake and cream to make you swoon.

The same is true of the scrumptious apple Danish with sweet fruit, crunchy pecans,and plump raisins all wrapped in the embrace of flaky pastry that’s perfectly golden on the outside, but reveals a moist and yummy interior as you take a bite.

click to enlarge Inside the Italian bakery-cafe. - CHIP WEINER
  • Chip Weiner
  • Inside the Italian bakery-cafe.

We also sample some of their delicious cookies, each a memorable specimen of its particular type. The coconut biscuit bursts with tropical flavor, and the almond-colored Amaretto cookies have a crunchy exterior that yields to a heavenly moist inside, displaying all the evidence you need to understand why these have been an Italian favorite for years.

Perhaps most surprising are the chocolate chip cookies that, except for dots of dark chocolate, bear no resemblance to the ubiquitous Nestle’s toll house version that’s the dominant recipe for home bakers. DeLucia produces a very short, crumbly cookie that produces joyous twinkles in the eyes of my table, who are not so tough after all when faced with a plate of these babies. We’re so used to the brown bumpy kind with crisp edges and soft centers, that we forget it’s possible to produce a smashing cookie that’s smooth and light with just enough bits of chocolate to make it interesting.

The drinks menu is selective, but there are enough wine and beer choices to serve your needs and they’ve got all the espresso variations you’ve come to expect. So grab a cappuccino with whatever baked goods catch your fancy and you’ll be as happy as George and Danny — without having to nurse a hangover.

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