By B.C. Manion
Al Giovannelli was just 6 years old when he fried his first egg, and that was the beginning of a lifelong passion for cooking.
As a young boy, he sat at the kitchen table, while his mother, Maria, schooled him in the art of Italian cooking.
“I made everything. Bread. Cookies. Homemade meatballs. Homemade sausage,” he said. “When we needed tomatoes or parsley or basil, we went to the backyard in the garden and we picked it.”
His sister, Susan Meschino, also grew up learning the ins and outs of Italian cuisine.
She remembers that they had to be sure to pick the right kind of tomatoes for the sauce, Some kinds of tomatoes simply have too much water in them to be good in sauce, she explained.
While the siblings were learning how to make Italian foods, Al’s wife, Janette, was growing up in a household where her mother, Juanita Valentin, was teaching her how to create Spanish dishes.
And now, Al and his wife and his sister are combining their talents to offer a wide selection of breakfast, lunch and dessert items at Simple and Delicious Bakery & Café, 24832 SR 54 in Lutz.
The restaurant, which is about 1,000 square feet, has a simple décor.
The east side of the dining room is dominated by a pastry case – loaded with Italian and Spanish treats. The west side has a collection of five wooden tables, each with five chairs.
The family-owned operation aims to be a place where people come looking for a good meal or a tasty treat and keep coming back for more.
“We cook like we do when we have company,” Meschino said. “You want to impress your guests when they come to your house for dinner. That’s exactly what we do here.”
There’s a sense of satisfaction from serving someone delicious food, Meschino said.
“It’s just the pleasure of seeing someone smiling — that they’re enjoying what they’re eating,” she said.
“Everything is fresh,” Giovannelli said. “There’s nothing frozen that you throw in the microwave.”
Breakfast items include eggs, egg sandwiches, sausage and bacon. For lunch, they serve a variety of sub sandwiches for lunch and various pasta dishes. There are also grilled chicken, ham and turkey dinners, salads and lots of sides.
And then there are the desserts. The bakery case is filled with enticing selections including Italian cookies, guava pastries and cheesecakes.
“Up North, if you really wanted a good cannoli, you went to an Italian bakery,” Meschino said. They hope that transplanted Northerners will beat a path to their door, once they find out what they offer.
“Our cookies are fresh. We bake them from flour. Everything is from scratch,” Giovannelli said.
They aim to please.
“If we don’t have it on our list and someone suggests something, we’ll make it for them – no problem,” Giovannelli said.
They carry items that are gluten-free, that are low in carbohydrates and that are tailored to diabetics. They understand those special needs: Al is watching his carbs, Janette is diabetic and their daughter needs gluten-free foods.
Meschino said she loves working with her brother because they’re on the same wavelength when it comes to food.
“There are times when we are doing something and we don’t even have to say anything. We’ll look at each other and we know what we’re going to do,” she said.
There are times, though, the trio agrees, when they don’t see exactly eye-to eye.
“We’ll butt heads once in awhile: Too much salt, a little more sugar,” Giovannelli said.
Nancy Leeper, who lives in Plantation Palms, recently dropped by the café to check it out.
She tried a pignoli cookie, an almond-flavored treat that is crunchy outside, soft in the middle and has pine nuts.
“It’s to die for,” she proclaimed.
She also tried some sesame cookies, and by the time she left, she had ordered a holiday platter.
That’s precisely the reaction the trio of cooks hopes to inspire.
Simple and Delicious Bakery & Café, 24832 SR 54. Lutz
Store hours: Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
For more information: (813) 528-8714