Cozy pizzeria warms up Mayfair

 

Spartico succeeds where developers and architects have failed for two decades: The cozy, gourmet pizzeria makes the eccentrically extravagant Mayfair Hotel feel welcoming.

By Jodi Mailander Farrell | jmailander@MiamiHerald.com

Spartico succeeds where developers and architects have failed for two decades: The cozy, gourmet pizzeria makes the eccentrically extravagant Mayfair Hotel feel welcoming.

A wood-burning oven beckons from behind glass doors flung open onto Virginia Street, across from CocoWalk. Inside, servers bustle among 10 tables, carrying bubbling, 12-inch pies with toppings like chorizo, speck, figs and shiitake mushrooms. A lively, well-run bar with on-tap craft beers like Orange Blossom Pilsner and Bell’s Two Hearted Ale add to the ambience.

Open since mid-December, Spartico is slowly attracting locals, who are joining conventioneers and tourists inside the Grove’s landmark hotel. Instead of trying to mimic the Mayfair’s blitzkrieg of colors, textures and patterns, it has carved its own homey niche. A second bar overlooking the pizza oven allows diners to enjoy the crackling fire a few feet from the parade of passersby.

Consulting here since closing Q and Fin in the Design District, chef Jonathan Eismann has crafted a one-page menu of a dozen salads and starters, 10 thin-crust pizzas and a half-dozen pastas plus a minuscule selection of meat and fish. His deft hand is evident in everything from the lightly fried zucchini medallions with aioli and spicy pomodoro sauce to the terrific ground veal spaghetti Bolognese.

Eismann continues to tweak the menu. The original foot-high salads have been down-sized, the formerly baked salmon is now seared and, to our disappointment, an excellent eggplant parmigiano entree has been demoted to a four-bite appetizer.

Chef Walter Dilibero keeps it happening day to day, pounding tenderness into the chicken limone and veal Milanese, the latter topped with a refreshing stack of arugula, endive, radicchio, capers, tomatoes and artichoke hearts in a lemony vinaigrette.

The pizzas with their crisp, tasty crusts easily feed two for a light meal, and there’s a make-your-own option for kids. Prices are as accessible as the restaurant design, with most pies and entrees under $15.

There are a few misses, most notably the lasagna, which is overpowered by fennel sausage and more of a gooey mass than a structured dish. There are no “wows” on the dessert menu, the typical chorus line of tiramisu, cannoli, crème brulee and molten chocolate cake.

One not-to-be-missed treat: Free valet parking with restaurant validation, a godsend in this parking-challenged neighborhood.

Eating at the bar is a fine option for small parties, especially given the wait staff’s painful inexperience. On one visit, our waitress engaged us in a lengthy debate about plate size, and on another, our waiter suggested a twice-the-price substitute after telling us the $46 bottle of Hahn Estate pinot noir we had ordered was out of stock.

Coordination with the hotel staff is also lacking. One evening, just before 9 p.m., a cleaner with bucket in hand began mopping amid diners in the hotel’s interior courtyard. The music is a work in progress, too. We began one dinner with old friends Bruce Springsteen and the Rolling Stones, only to flee at dessert time when the soundtrack switched to techno dance music.

Eismann has done his part. Now it’s up to Mayfair management to keep Spartico out of the Grove’s crowded restaurant graveyard.

If you go

Place: Spartico

Address: 3000 Florida Ave., Coconut Grove

Rating:★ ★ 1/2 (Good)

Contact: 305-779-5100, www.sparticorestaurant.com

Hours: 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday and Sunday, until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; bar open one hour later

Prices: Starters $5.95-$13.95, pizzas $10.95-$15.95, pastas $11.95-$14.95, entrees $12.95-$26.95, desserts $3.95-$7.95.

FYI.: Complimentary valet parking. Full bar. AX, DS, MC, VS

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