By Sara Liss
The goods: A rustic pizza restaurant with benefits, owners Lou and Debbie DiBono (China Grill, Suva) have revamped their Louie’s Brick Oven Grill Rotisserie Bar into the more homey DiBono’s Italian Cafe. The change brings the DiBono’s closer to their Italian roots and was spurred by the popularity of Debbie’s home made dishes, culled from recipes passed down from her husband’s Italian family.
The space has a neighborhood cafe feel, with comfy leather booths and a polished granite bar with beers on tap and flatscreen TVs for sports fans. There’s a preponderance of brick, of course, including the massive coal- and wood-burning oven in the open kitchen reflected throughout the room by angled mirrors positioned over the pizza bar. Flatscreen TVs throughout the dining room beam old Frank Sinatra movies and opera performances, adding to the Goodfellas vibe. Nestled in a shopping mall in North Miami Beach, the spot features ample seating and parking.
The grub: "Philly Style Cuisine" courtesy of DiBono family recipes. Portions are family-friendly, in fact most main courses could probably feed three. Prices range from $10-$20 for oversized pastas, appetizers and salads and $18-$42 for mains and desserts range from $6-$7. Modest pricing and large portions allow for plenty of sharing and plenty of leftovers. New additions include Debbie’s meatballs made from beef and stuffed with ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan cheeses and Jimmy Milan’s Famous Philly Salad of iceberg, tomato, red onion, chopped egg, crumbled bacon and shrimp — inspired by the eponymous popular Philadelphia restaurant. Chef Joe Marzella, who shares the culinary duties at Di Bono’s, brings in his own Italian heritage with his list of specialties like seafood perciatelli for two with jumbo shrimp, clams, calamari and fresh fish.
Dinner starts with warm homemade focaccia bread dipped in olive oil and an herb mixture culled from the restaurant’s garden, which supplies the restaurant with fresh rosemary, basil, mint, tomatoes and lemons. Lou DiBono also cures his own salt in wooden kegs using a mixture of 21 herbs including cloves and thyme. The crusty pizzas, made with herbed tomato sauce and heaped with mozzarella, are dished up plain or topped with embellishments such as roasted red peppers, grilled eggplant, apple wood-smoked bacon and thinly sliced mortadella. You won’t leave hungry after polishing off the rigatoni with Sunday gravy platter piled high with pasta, pork spare ribs, meatballs and imported Italian sausage served with a side of ricotta. Lighter fare like Tuscan-style lemon chicken broiled in lemon, white wine and garlic and snapper Genovese with plum tomatoes and kalamata olives will keep waistlines in check.
If you manage to reserve space for dessert, the home-made ricotta cheesecake and fluffy tiramesu provide toothsome caps to a meal fit for a Soprano. Tony Soprano, that is.
The restaurant offers a small, attractively priced selection of mostly Italian wines offered by the bottle, by the glass or carafe (1/2 or whole). A carafe of house chianti will set you back $22 while a 2003 Villa Antorini Super Tuscan flows for $45.
The verdict: Lou and Debbie DiBono’s new namesake cafe boasts affordable prices, generous portions and a cozy atmosphere.
DiBono’s Italian Cafe, 15979 Biscayne Blvd, North Miami Beach; 305-948-3330