South Florida chef Louie Bossi will tell you that everything he makes is from scratch. His first memory of cooking: dabbling in the family's kitchen at the gas stove, heating corn kernels over an open flame.
That do-it-yourself mentality is what has helped propel the Big Time Restaurant executive chef into his own establishment, where handmade, homemade, and traditional are the key ingredients. And that's exactly what you can expect from his Italian restaurant, the eponymous Louie Bossi's Ristorante, Bar & Pizzeria set to open later this year in downtown Fort Lauderdale.
Bossi, who is currently the executive chef for Big City Tavern, created the concept alongside Big Time's corporate chef, Lisbet Summa. Together, the duo are attempting to redefine traditional Italian fare in South Florida.
At Louie Bossi's, the culture and flavor of cities like New York, Chicago, and San Francisco are the impetus behind many menu items. Bossi said he garnered ideas from places with character: a fifth-generation, 100-year-old Italian butcher shop in San Francisco, 60-year-old pizza parlors in New York City, and artisan-style salami and sausage shops in Chicago.
"Our menu will consist of classic Italian American comfort food with a strong artisan touch. The vibe will be one of a fun, hip, neighborhood Italian restaurant," said Bossi.
Despite decades in the industry and extensive culinary training, Bossi and Summa say they are always learning. Together they've attended seminars with artisan chef Brian Polcyn, one of the country's foremost experts in the age-old tradition of charcuterie and salumi-making. They've also learned from master pizza-maker and 11-time world pizza champion Tony Gemignani, owner of Tony's Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco.
As a result, expect the menu at Louie Bossi's to be everything true Italian should be, said Summa.
That means that everything from the pizza dough, cheese, and bread to gelato and desserts -- even the house-cured meats -- is prepared fresh, and often daily. Custom wood-burning ovens from Wood Stone in Washington will create the signature Bossi pies, able to reach high temperatures to yield the typical characteristics of Neapolitan pies: a chewy, doughy crust that is crisp and charred around the edges.
Bossi's favorite pizza place growing up was called Pisano's, a restaurant in north New Jersey where he lived after moving from New York City. Although it's no longer there, the restaurant's New York-style pizza was his first love. Today, it's Gemingnani's Napoletana magherita pie. Although the San Francisco restaurant makes five distinctive styles of pizza and has five ovens, the classic combination of fresh mozzarella, San Marzano tomatoes, basil, sea salt, and extra virgin olive oil cooked in a 900-degree, wood-burning oven is topnotch.
But it's not all about the pizza.
Another highlight will be the salumi bar, Bossi's stage for presenting artisan-style cured meats and the only establishment in Florida to have a Stagionello curing case. The menu will offer patrons several styles of artisan salami, pancetta, prosciutto, and more that can be ordered on boards with cheeses and antipasti.
Bossi will tell you his favorite cut is culatella, known as the king of cured meats in Italy. Made from the large muscle in the rear leg of the hog, it's also considered the heart of the prosciutto. It's rare to find it in the U.S., let alone house-made, but Bossi makes it for Big City Tavern -- and soon, for his namesake restaurant.
For Summa, all the dishes are wonderful, but a hands-down winner is Bossi's handmade Italian sausage pizza with fresh arugula. Anointed with a touch of Calabrian spicy chili oil, it's simple but delicious -- Italian food at its best.
A favorite menu item for Bossi: the porchetta, a dish he's perfected over the years. It starts with free-range pork belly from a local farmer, Jim Wood from Palmetto Creek Farms. First, it's prepped, cut in-house, and brined for 48 hours with fennel, coriander, black pepper, and sea salt. Next, Bossi dries it and layers it with garlic, rosemary, sage, extra virgin olive oil, and orange zest; rolls and ties it; and roasts it in a 300-degree oven for three hours. It's served as an entrée or sliced thin for a panini sandwich.
No matter which way you slice it, however, Bossi and Summa will be bringing an elevated flare to Italian dining in South Florida.
Follow Nicole Danna on Twitter, @SoFloNicole.