Santoro’s Pizzeria offers authentic Jersey Shore fare in Tampa Bay

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Santoro’s Pizzeria is now open at 1329 W Cass Street, and the Pizza Center serves New Jersey-style slices in the city of Tampa.

Santoro’s Pizzeria on W Cass Street is one of the bay’s hottest new restaurants, but if you’re a foodie you already know that. In fact, you were probably one of the 243 pie orders that sold the no-frills no-dough joint on their very first weekend. What you don’t know, however, is the relentless, sweat-filled grind that brought this pizza powerhouse to life. Last night I sat down with the owner, Travis Kaiser, to get all the details.

Sitting at a bright, hand-painted picnic table, I dipped into a sloppy slice of pepperoni as Travis delved into his story. “Before that I worked for a corporate catering group and my cousin Ralph made pizza with our family in the north. I knew Tampa needed a quality slice, and wanted to bring it, so I bought this place on loan. I really felt confident.

He motioned to a rowdy crowd of college kids as they walked, arms full of takeout boxes, to the door. Letting his eyes linger on the front glass, Travis shook his head with an exhausted laugh, “And then COVID hit.” And here is the money.

“So,” I asked, “What the…”

“I bought a jackhammer,” he replied, one step ahead of me. “And I turned to my cousin and told him we were going to shovel dirt and haul bricks. We had no money, but we still had a dream.

8 months and 40 pounds lost, later the team had a hand-built restaurant. Symbolic of the labor of love that presided over its manifestation and of the hope that it would one day become a neighborhood family place, Travis gave its name to the humble pizzeria; Santoro, after his eldest son.

A smooth starry opening

Now here’s the thing with enthusiasts: They attract other enthusiasts. So when Travis enthusiastically opened the doors of Santoro to the public, equally enthusiastic foodies rushed in, filling the handcrafted benches with energy and anticipation. By the end of the first weekend, the restaurant was completely out of batter.

Passion alone, however, doesn’t fuel a restaurant, and in the first few weeks of its existence, Santoro’s had captured the attention of major news networks, professional athletes and social media stars. Curious to know what is behind this unprecedented success?

Simple answer: an authentic New Jersey style menu. And, as a native of Jersey, I’m here to tell you exactly what makes this so great.

Bring the boardwalk fare from New Jersey to Tampa

So it’s no secret that Tampa is full of ‘New York’ style pizzerias, but New Jersey pizza is different. With a more salty cheese / sauce mix, the use of fine herbs, and a thin crust sprinkled with cornmeal so greasy it almost falls into your hand, the Jersey slice is completely packed with flavor. In my opinion, this is by far the superior pie. Seriously, ask any kid in Jersey what their favorite food is. 11/10 will say pizza.

But New Jersey is known for more than slices of cheese. In fact, they also have a bagel set to compete with the Big Apple. And, at Santoro, they serve the most ordered bagel on the promenade: the Ham, Egg and Taylor Cheese Sandwich.

If you grew up in the Garden State, you are either:

  1. Already salivating

Or:

  1. Emphasizing categorically that it is “pork rolls”, eggs and cheese

And if you didn’t grow up in Jersey, you are:

  1. Confused

To clarify things for the latter, Taylor ham (or pork roll, that’s a regional debate) is a Nordic pork-based delicacy that has absolutely nothing to do with traditional ham. If I had to compare it to something, it could be closer to spam, or a hard draft, though none of these fully capture its essence. It’s salty, juicy, and super tender, and it tastes phenomenal stacked with melted American cheese between each slice. Take that meat and layer it with fluffy eggs on a toasted bagel, and you’ve got another great reason to head to Santoro’s ASAP.

Zeppoles, cannolis and Nutella pie

No walking tour is complete without dessert, and luckily for visitors, the Santoro team has taken special care to bring the best of the bay’s northern shores. Two of these quintessential nostalgic offerings include Zeppoles and Philadelphia Water Ice.

For those unfamiliar with either, zeppoles are indulgently fried dough balls coated in powdered sugar. Philadelphia Water Ice, meanwhile, refers to a regional Italian brand of ice cream known for its thick, fruity flavors. My favorite is the Mango, so I highly recommend it for beginners looking to clean up their post-pizza palette with something sweet.

In addition to the boardwalk treats, Santoro also offers cannolis and a “Nutella pizza,” both of which pay homage to New Jersey’s largely Italian roots.

Authenticity is the key

Over an hour after my pizza left the plate, and long after my bagel sandwich had vanished into the depths of my stomach, Travis and I were still chatting on his personally painted green benches. Behind the counter, the kitchen guys gleefully banged each other on the back as they shouted jokes across the space.

It was at that late night time that I realized that it was never the food itself that made New Jersey’s pizzerias, delis and diners so great, but rather the authentic and authentic environment. “Come as you are” that characterized them.

And, with a Jersey boy at his heart, Santoro is no exception.

Foodies can visit the Santoro Pizzeria at 1329 West Cass St., or order take out by calling (813) 687-7100. The team also plans to launch a delivery service through Uber Eats in the near future. For updates on this service and current menu offerings, diners can visit https://santorospizzeria.com/


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