Alessandro Di Ferdinando is on a mission to breathe new life into the building that once housed the former 15 South Ristorante Enoteca. Di Ferdinando has been part of the Sarasota food scene for years. He used to own Made in Italy in Venice and Napulé with former business partner Giuseppe Del Sole. Today he is the owner of Napulé and the new 15 South by Napulé. In April, Di Ferdinando officially opened 15 South by Napulé on St. Armands, where he has combined his passion for Italian cuisine, music and dancing to create an exciting dining destination. 

Di Ferdinando has partnered with his longtime friend and Executive Chef Giancarlo Cosmo Di and Pizza Chef Antonio Mancini for this project. The two-story restaurant is rustic and understated, with a few glitzy touches, like a gold-tiled wood-burning pizza oven imported from Italy. The open kitchen gives diners an up-close view of Pizza Chef Mancini at work. Upstairs, guests will find a bar, club and dance floor. Because Di Ferdinando worked in the club and DJ world, he wanted to share his love for music and dance with the Sarasota community. His motto, “Eat. Dance. Love.”, is a play off the film Eat Pray Love, and represents his hope that the restaurant will be a joyful place where people can come together over a delicious meal. He hopes to host salsa dancing every Friday night, and he also wants to offer an in-house DJ and club music, evocative of Miami, every other Saturday, which will alternate with a 70s and 80s revival with a live band. “The people who used to come here 20 years ago will be able to relive their memories,” he says. 

Photography by Wes Roberts

Of course, food is 15 South’s main attraction, and the menu offers guests a variety of Italian delights. To start, Di Ferdinando recommends the Meat and Cheese Board which features imported products from top Italian brands. “We decided to add some vegetables too, so you can get meat, cheese and vegetables, like grilled zucchini, grilled artichokes and red peppers roasted and marinated in parsley and garlic. It can be a small one for two or a big one for four people,” he adds. “With that, you’ll be able to eat our homemade bread that we bake every morning in the wood-burning oven. It’s ‘Grandma-style.’ They used to cook this way hundreds and hundreds of years ago, with an oven and fire.” He notes that the Parmigiana Di Melanzane Classica, or Eggplant Parmesan, is also very popular. Bruschetta lovers can indulge in the Stracciatella Bruschetta. “It has stracciatella, which is the inside of the burrata cheese. It’s creamy. Then we take the Brussels sprouts leaves and deep fry them so that they become curly and crunchy. We put a mix of honey and truffle oil right on top,” he says. “People are going crazy for it.”

Photography by Wes Roberts

For the main event, pizza and pasta are equally good choices. The Ravioli Cacio E Pepe All’Amatriciana combines two classic Italian sauces into one dish. The ravioli are bursting with the cheesy and peppery filling which contrasts well with the spicy tomato sauce. “The pizza is amazing,” adds Di Ferdinando. “It takes 90 seconds to cook. It’s thin-crusted and Neapolitan style, cooked with just wood. The oven goes anywhere from 750 to 900 degrees Fahrenheit.” He suggests ordering the La Napulé pizza, which is a white pizza with mozzarella, provolone, homemade sausage, broccoli rabe cream, basil and extra virgin olive oil, or the Mortazza Pizza, another white pizza with mozzarella, provolone, mortadella, pistachio crumbs, pistachio cream, basil and extra virgin olive oil. The entrée selection features a balance of meats and seafood. One standout dish is the Grilled Lamb Chops with Hollandaise Sauce, Roasted Potatoes and Asparagus. “This sauce works so nicely with the lamb because Chef Cosmo Di makes his own sauce with a little twist. I see those plates coming back with just three little bones from the lamb,” Di Ferdinando says. For coastal flavor, many diners opt for the Brodetto Di Mare, which has stuffed calamari, jumbo shrimp, scallops and clams cooked in a lightly spicy tomato sauce. 

While it’s tempting to fill up on bread and pasta, those who save room for dessert are in for a sweet surprise. The Torta Ricotta E Pistacchio, a layered pistachio cake, is a light and flavorful end to any meal as well as a feast for the eyes. Whether guests are in the mood for a sweet treat or mouthwatering pasta, they should look no further than 15 South by Napulé.