September 30, 2010 | 8:00am
Chef Angelo Elia epitomizes the American dream. After moving from Italy to the U.S. as a teenager, he worked his way through some of New York and Florida's prestigious kitchens. Along with the original Casa D'Angelo, Chef Angelo and his wife, Denise, now find themselves at the head of their own restaurant conglomerate. Even with three locations in South Florida and one in the Bahamas, this busy restaurant chef and entrepreneur took the time to speak with Clean Plate Charlie about the challenges and rewards he faces on a daily basis.
New Times: Your Casa D'Angelo restaurants are described as Tuscan-style. How do you describe Tuscan cuisine to someone who's not familiar with it?
Angelo Elia: My cooking style is Tuscan with an accent of Southern Italy. I use a lot of meats, fish, and fresh vegetables. The sauces are lighter than the traditional red sauces you expect to find in a lot of Southern cooking.
What is your favorite dish on the menu?
It's difficult to choose just one, but I do love our 16-ounce veal chop special. With a creamy Gorgonzola on top, it is just right...
Which is the hardest dish for the kitchen to prepare?
dish needs lots of care and attention, but I would say you always have
to be extra attentive with fish -- it's easy to overcook.
You opened a Casa D'Angelo restaurant at Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas. How did you choose this location?
How do you split your time between locations?
was offered the opportunity four and a half years ago because of the success of
my Fort Lauderdale location. The Bahamas attracts a high-end clientele
with lots of returning visitors, and it is doing very well. I have not
looked back since we opened.
I am down in the Bahamas once or twice a month. But I made it a point to hire very good people so that I can delegate and trust that the integrity of the food is not compromised when I am not there.
At which location do you spend most of your time?
Right here, at the original Casa D'Angelo. It's my home, and I am here seven days a week.
You recently expanded to D'Angelo, a more casual concept that has opened to rave reviews. Can you tell us a little bit more about it?
I've been working on the concept for the past five or six years. It's a relaxed atmosphere ideal for families and casual dinners. We have small dishes and pizzas made in our wood-burning oven. The pizzas are all individual style like we have back home in Italy.
Speaking of pizza, what makes for a good pizza?
It's all in the dough, and good dough is made with great flour and water. We use Italian flour, fresh yeast, and double filtered water so that we can get the best pizza dough possible.
What is the secret to a great restaurant?
There's no secret. It's all about the customer and their experience. My wife and I want every guest to feel welcome and spend a lot of time hiring and training our wait staff. We have waiters who have been with us for seven years or more; one has been here for 14 years! We know our customers, suggest menu items for them, and make sure they leave smiling, having had a beautiful experience.
So what is next for you?
I want to open a few more locations. Maybe a good steak house -- I've always wanted to open a steak house.