New Team in the Kitchen at New River Pizza & Grill

It's not exactly a secret that the newest trend in restaurants is casual. Many people are just over the pretense of white tablecloths and haute cuisine: they just want honest food, in a laid-back setting.

Yet, while many existing restaurants are working to tone things down, Fort Lauderdale's New River Pizza & Grill is taking things up a notch. The 12-year-old pizza take-out and delivery joint is now focusing on amping up the cuisine and in-house service.

Director of Operations Randy Wilcox recently brought in Executive Chef Klime Kovaceski along with Executive Chef Robert Matrisimone and Chef De Cuisine Mario Williams to revamp much of the menu.

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About two years back, New River Pizza packed up shop and relocated from its former location across the street. Kovaceski came onboard about seven months ago. Since then he's been focused on turning the place into more of a neighborhood bistro than a takeout joint.

"My background is in fine dining," he said. "I've been trying to change operations and focus on service."

Kovaceski's inspiration came from spending time in San Francisco.

"Northern California is fascinating," he said. "You can walk into almost any casual spot with the menu on the bulletin board and find amazing, unpretentious food. I think that's the difference between the East Coast and the West Coast: it's quality of ingredients on the West Coast versus the technicality on the East Coast -- how crafty the chefs are."

Since coming onboard, Kovaceski has added 18 additional menu items, creating Italian-influenced, new American cuisine. Creative paninis include items like turkey, cranberry, and brie. Pizzas now contain gourmet topping such as fig, prosciutto, and blue cheese. Salads are ingredient-driven with simple combinations like arugula and parmesan.

Kovaceski and the team are also developing a number of weekly specials which will be available in-store and for takeout and delivery. A new website, which will be up and running within the next week, will allow customers to see the changing specials and order online.

Overall, the spot is aiming to offer lighter, healthier fare.

"People are getting tired of stuffed shells, manicotti, and typical old school Italian fare," said Wilcox. "That's why I sought out Klime. We don't want to reinvent ourselves, but we want to keep up with the times. Many people are going healthier now."

The team plans to start up a new lunch menu soon with a number of ten minute express items and a selection of gourmet entrees. In addition to pizzas, sandwiches, and burgers, the spot will offer items like the New River Charcuterie Board (sliced cappicola, honey ham, shaved prosciutto, mozzarella, marinated olives, and grapes with herb bread), crispy pork medallions milanese (breaded and sautéed pork with a tomato, shaved red onion, and parmesan, with a fig balsamic reduction), and the Morning After (two fried eggs topped with sweet red-onion jam, crumbled blue cheese, Swiss, and extra bacon on ciabatta).

Matrosimone will be starting up the brunch. He is responsible for creating the well-known brunch program at the Sundy House. The menu will offer a number of upscale a la carte items like red velvet pancakes with cream cheese topping and sprinkled graham cracker, classic benedicts, and new takes like the un-florentine with sun-dried tomato hollandaise and braised spinach with bacon.

All items will be available for in-house dining, delivery, and take-out. The new website will be newriverpizzaandgrill.com - though as of publication it is not yet live. Try again near the end of the week.

In addition to the changes to New River Pizza and Grill, the team is currently working on developing an Asian fusion concept. We will keep you posted on any updates.

Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.

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