Pia's Trattoria

Reviews

By LAURA REILEY - St. Pete Times Food Critic      
Published January 15, 2009
http://www.tampabay.com/features/food/restaurants/article967517.ece

The Tampa Bay area's best restaurants

Top 3 Italian Restaurants in Tampa Bay

. Pia's Trattoria
3054 Beach Blvd. S, Gulfport; (727) 327-2190

. Pelagia Trattoria
4200 Jim Walter Blvd., Tampa; (813) 313-3235

. Pane Rustica
3225 S MacDill Ave., Tampa; (813) 902-8828


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By LAURA REILEY - St. Pete Times Food Critic
Published April 12, 2007

http://www.sptimes.com/2007/04/12/Weekend/Learn_what_vibrant_ta.shtml

Learn what vibrant tastes like

And what it looks like, too. At Pia's, well-prepared dishes with hearty ingredients shine in an atmospheric patio setting.

GULFPORT -- Pia's Trattoria is the kind of sweetly earnest restaurant that you'd like to think unfurls fully realized from the ground. Just a kernel of vision, nurtured by sweat and love, fortified by some good basic ingredients and a healthy inoculation of Italian culinary know-how.

The menu is short at this Gulfport storefront, the same at lunch and dinner.

Weighted to crusty pressed panini and pastas topped with one of a handful of simple sauces, its strength lies in its building blocks. Arugula is peppery and spry, Parmesan nutty and crystalline. Tomatoes come deep red and flavorful, prosciutto and Genoa salami are the real deal.

At lunch, a generous bowl of spicy greens $6 arrived dressed in just a bit of good balsamic, topped with thick shavings of Parmesan (maybe a little too thick). With it, the day's special soup (a bargain at $3): cold gazpacholike cucumber, dashed with cream and harboring sweet shrimp.

From there we made our way through an al dente heap of bow-ties ladled with a smoky/spicy arrabiata sauce ($10.50) heightened with a bit of prosciutto and salami. More prosciutto came tucked in with a molten mantle of mozzarella and a tangle of arugula in the "crudo" panini ($9.50). In all, sweet was balanced with salty, soft textures with something pleasingly crunchy.

At dinner, the same robust, straightforward aesthetic prevails.

Rusks of bread are piled with sweet tomato and red onion in a foursome of bruschetta ($4). Rounds of more tomato get caps of soft fresh mozzarella, a dab of emerald pesto, and dots of olive oil and balsamic in a simple caprese ($8).

The evening's special pasta broke up our tomato fest, with artichoke hearts and fat shrimp tossed in a velvety cream sauce with lengths of penne ($16). ............

The restaurant is a teeny bit foyer and mostly outdoor patio. One enters into a service bar backed by a blackboard wall chalked with coffees and beer offerings (Peroni and Moretti, big surprise, but also a passel of excellent Germans). The intimate room is presided over by a grim headshot of Luciano Pavarotti.

The few tables indoors accept the spillover from the bricked patio out back, where all the action happens.

Pia's is an easy place to linger, to have animated discussion and a carafe of crisp pinot grigio. An actual Pia presides in the kitchen, and her husband, Tom, seems to hold sway in the front of the house, ferrying out a cannoli here (excellent, the crisp shell harboring a perfectly cinnamony ricotta filling) or a bottle of water there (no tap water, for some reason).

It's a neighborhood find, capturing the intimate scale and no-fuss charms of so many Italian trattorias. And just like in Palermo, where you might walk off the pasta with a stroll at Mediterranean's edge, in Gulfport the warm water of the gulf beckons from just a couple of blocks away.

Laura Reiley dines anonymously and unannounced. The St. Petersburg Times pays all expenses. A restaurant's advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment. Reiley can be reached at (727) 892-2293 or lreiley@sptimes.com.

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Trattoria Treat
review by Brian Ries - Food Critic
Creative Loafing   
2007-09-12
http://tampa.creativeloafing.com/gyrobase/GoodEats/Content?oid=oid%3A331850&contentView=clReview


PIA'S ADORABLE:
The namesake of Pia's Trattoria features her family's Italian recipes.


Walking around the tiny building that's home to Pia's Trattoria, reveling in the ozone-fresh breeze from a typical summer thunderstorm blowing away the wet blanket of summer humidity, it's easy to buy into the charm of the place. The restaurant's thatched-roof outdoor dining room is stocked with colorfully-clothed picnic tables topped by a slew of mismatched lanterns, and surrounded by fragrant Florida foliage that crowds the scene without getting in the way.
alking around the tiny building that's home to Pia's Trattoria, reveling in the ozone-fresh breeze from a typical summer thunderstorm blowing away the wet blanket of summer humidity, it's easy to buy into the charm of the place. The restaurant's thatched-roof outdoor dining room is stocked with colorfully-clothed picnic tables topped by a slew of mismatched lanterns, and surrounded by fragrant Florida foliage that crowds the scene without getting in the way.

In truth, the "random" décor is dangerously close to purposeful eclecticism -- no table shares the same pattern of fabric or lantern style -- but it works, especially when the checked tablecloths are topped by Pia's wonderfully straightforward Italian fare.

Portions are large, service is casual and Pia herself -- a petite, dark-haired woman -- has been known to cruise the dining room. She and husband Tom Goff (a Sarasota native) met in Germany while she was running a biergarten. They returned to the States to raise their four kids and opened the Gulfport restaurant to feature Pia's family recipes. She still picks the beer selections.

This night, she comes to our table to explain that some of the dishes are going to be delayed, due to a blown breaker from a lightning-fueled power surge. No problem, really. We'll just have more Prosecco.

When the food arrives -- much quicker than we expect -- it hits the table with a splash of rustic touches. No spring mix here at Pia's; her eponymous salad ($6) is a blend of spicy arugula and crisp romaine chopped by hand, along with creamy gorgonzola, fresh mozzarella and a lively vinaigrette. Her caprese ($8) forgoes the usual layered slices of mozz and tomato in favor of a big bowl of the same, mixed with red onion, strips of bright green basil and a lively balsamic vinaigrette.

Mussels ($12.50) bathe in steamy broth redolent of garlic and tomato paste. We dredge each morsel of plump shellfish -- as well as leftover hunks of crusty bread -- through the sauce before consumption. Pia's pressed "spezial panini" ($8.50), cut into fourths, also makes for a hefty starter -- the crisp and herbed foccacia is rich with fruity olive oil and loaded with bacon, fresh mozzarella and balsamic-marinated mushrooms.

.........Pia's nightly lasagna ($15). The huge layered hunk has been cut from a large pan and heated in the oven with a puddle of red sauce, the top a bubbly, blistered expanse of crisped pasta and cheese. The interior is a melting mass of tender pasta, luscious béchamel and a meaty red sauce, which provides a significant hit of herbacious acidity that enlivens the splendid block of fat and carb.

Besides the décor, focus is the reason why Pia's is so popular and why the place has garnered a passel of admiring reviews (and you can add this one to the list). Salads. Pasta. Sandwiches. Pia's doesn't try to meet the need of every fan of pseudo-Italian cuisine stalking Pinellas restaurants. No scallopine, no chops, no wood-fired pizza oven.

It's just a neighborhood trattoria -- Florence via Beach Boulevard -- with Pia doing what she does, well and simply, in a surrounding that manages to distill Gulfport's relaxed neighborhood aura.

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