By Jane Bartnett
For Siesta Key fans of Il Panificio’s old-world style pizza, the good news is that the newest Il Panficio pizzeria has opened its doors in Siesta Key Village at 215 Avenida Madera. With indoor or outdoor seating, Il Panificio offers pizza by the slice or by the pie. There’s also a great selection of such Italian favorites as Eggplant Rollatini, meatballs, garlic knots, a variety of salads, and hot and cold sandwiches and subs. Beer and wine is also on the menu. If you’re in the mood for a designer pizza, order up your own toppings ranging from mushrooms to basil, jalapenos, pineapple and artichoke. Select chicken, ham, pepperoni, bacon and sausage too, along with other favorite pizza toppings.
A tempting dessert can be a nice way to top off a stroll around Siesta Key Village. Imagine a true Italian Cannoli, Italian cookies, or how about a dessert pizza for that sweet tooth? Choose a Caramel Apple, Nutella & Strawberry or Banana and peanut butter, fluff, banana or strawberry pizza for a dessert like no other.
The new Siesta Key location marks the third Il Panificio pizzeria location in Sarasota. The original downtown store at 1703 Main Street will celebrate its 30th anniversary this year and the second Gulf Gate location at 2047 Reynolds Street can be found just off South Tamiami Trail. It was relocated to its current location to make room for the Melone family’s expansion of the Off the Hook Gulf Gate restaurant on Gateway Avenue.
“Having an Il Panificio on Siesta Key is really great,” said Nick Melone, Il Panficio’s owner, as he discussed the successful restaurant business that he and his father and grandfather built together several decades ago. “We absolutely have the best thin crust pizza,” he said with pride. “Our homemade dough is made daily with the finest cheese, sauce, and ingredients.” The dough, he noted, has no preservatives, sugar or shortening. Speaking of the new Siesta Key location, Melone said, “When the Davidson family gave us the opportunity to open a new Il Panificio right here on the Key, I was very pleased. This is my home, I’ve lived here for 30 years.” The relatively quiet months during the pandemic gave the Melones the opportunity to renovate the storefront that previously housed Soloranzano’s Pizzeria on Siesta Key, and made it their own. Il Panificio Siesta Key opened for business in early December.
“Nick Melone’s grandfather was the first to make the move to Florida from the family’s home base in the New York City region. First settling in St. Petersburg, the elder Melone opened a bread store called La Casa del Pene, his grandson recalled. When the family moved further south to Sarasota, the younger Melone had just finished his college education at the State University of New York, where he had earned a degree in building construction. He joined the family in Sarasota and saw opportunity.
This was a place where he could, while working side by side with his father and grandfather, share his family’s cherished Italian recipes and create a successful restaurant. At the same time, he recalled, he saw a chance to put his education to work, building custom homes. Looking back, he said, “I started making pizza and we opened Il Panificio on Main Street in 1991. Then,” he said, “in 1997, I built several homes.” Standing in what will be the living room of a large custom home that he is currently building, Melone recalled, “when I built my first house on the Key, I bought the lot for $200,000, and built an $800,000 house. It sold for $1.7 million.” That was the beginning of his custom homes, NCN Realty business. “My custom homes are all waterfront. They sell for $3 million on the low end and $10 million on the high end,” he stated. Melone enjoys both businesses. “When I was getting started, the building business gave me something to fall back on when the restaurant business was slow, and vice versa. Now, I manage both and thanks to my family and the people that we hire, it all works.”
For Nick Melone, business is a family affair. Nick’s wife Tracy Melone and their daughter Alexis are managing the new Siesta Key Il Panificio. Their son Nick is working with his father on a 6,000 square foot waterfront Siesta Key home that is under construction. Melone expects to put the finishing touches on the house by March 2021.
The popular Off the Hook Gulf Gate seafood restaurant and market at 6630 Gateway Avenue is the Melone’s fourth restaurant. Offering lunch and dinner, the Gulf Gate dining spot has seen tremendous growth since it first opened a few years ago. Off the Hook’s celebrated chef Wes Duval is a Culinary Institute of America graduate whose critically acclaimed dishes feature locally sourced fresh seafood. His dishes bear his signature New Orleans flair, and attract many Siesta Key and Gulf Gate area customers for lunch and dinner who enjoy his seafood dishes, desserts and craft cocktails, along with a selection of beer and fine wine.
“Our family has been on Siesta Key for 30 years,” Melone told the Siesta Sand, speaking of the island that has become his home and place of business. “This is our home.”
Photo Caption: Alexis and Tracy Melone at the new Siesta Key Il Panificio on Avenida Madera.