A sort of local legend, Elia’s culinary acumen and inviting attitude have earned his establishments tremendous praise and recognition over the years — along with a number of awards, including Zagat’s America’s Top Restaurants and Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence for more than ten consecutive years.
Today, the Italian-born chef and restaurateur offers an impressive roster of dining establishments, including three Casa D’Angelo restaurants as well as a growing chain of small-plate Italian eateries.
After relocating to the United States as a teenager from Salerno, Italy, Elia worked his way through some of New York's most prestigious kitchens, including the Four Seasons and the family-operated La Cisterna. He later moved to South Florida with his wife, Denise, where he worked for several Miami-based restaurants — Prezzo and H2O — before opening his first restaurant in 1998.
Elia's passion is to deliver authentic "old country" fare, inspiring him to create a menu of traditional Tuscan dishes, making virtually everything from scratch. Speaking to his success, Elia's mantra is to always put the customer first and to deliver the best possible quality in food and service.
Despite his success, the chef is not one to rest on his laurels. In 2010, he debuted a new concept known as Angelo Elia Pizza, Bar, Tapas. A decidedly casual eatery serving lunch and dinner, it's since grown to several locations including Weston, Delray Beach, and Coral Springs — with more to come.
Name: Angelo Elia, chef-owner of Casa D'Angelo and Angelo Elia Pizza, Bar, Tapas
Hometown: Salerno, Italy
New Times: What inspired you to begin cooking professionally?
Elia: My mother has been the biggest influence in my life. She always pushed me to do what I loved – which was to be in the kitchen.
What’s the first important meal or dish you remember making?
Homemade pasta. It's my mother's recipe. I take all my ideas from her — she was always in the kitchen, and I would always help her cook for my family.
What's your favorite restaurant in South Florida (besides yours, of course)?
Houston's. My daughter loves it. We have celebrated a lot of birthdays and special occasions there. It’s simple and delicious.
What's your favorite dish on your menu right now?
The veal chop. It's also the most popular dish. Simple seasoning lets the flavor of the meat speak for itself.
Are you working on any new dishes we can look forward to tasting?
Overall, the menu [at Casa D'Angelo] pretty much stays the same. We always bring in the freshest ingredients, and only our specials change, depending on the time of the year. We only offer what's in season. I pride myself on having the best ingredients possible to provide the best dishes possible.
What do you cook for yourself or your family?
I am a fan of simple dishes. I love pasta, and I enjoy making pasta pomodoro at home. It's a dish that's also offered on the menu at both Casa D'Angelo and Angelo Elia. When it comes to this dish, fresh ingredients make all the difference.
What do you feel is lacking from the South Florida food scene?
I would love to see more fine-dining restaurants, like the ones I grew up going to. So many restaurants these days are trying to keep up with the latest food trends. I try to stick with what I know, and that's consistency. All recipes need to be specific, and my whole kitchen staff needs to be able to prepare the exact same recipe. That’s why guests return time and time again: for wonderful food that remains the same as when they had it the first time.
Name one kitchen tool you could not live without?
My knife. I could not live without my knife. I’ve learned so many knife skills as a young boy, and it's something that remains very important in this industry.
What advice do you have for up-and-coming chefs trying to break into the biz?
Stick to what you’re passionate about. I have always loved cooking, and it is such a joy for me every day to live my dream. I cook every day [at my Fort Lauderdale location]. I couldn't imagine doing anything else.
Casa D'Angelo is located at 1201 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-564-1234, or visit casa-d-angelo.com.
Nicole Danna is a food writer covering Broward and Palm Beach counties. To get the latest in food and drink news in South Florida, follow her @SoFloNicole or find her latest food pics on the BPB New Times Food & Drink Instagram.