Some would argue meatballs only belong on a swirl of steaming pasta  or wedged inside twelve inches of a hoagie roll, while others with a more laissez-faire approach to life would argue that when food rules are broken, magical accidents can happen. But neither party in this hypothetical argument would refuse a second serving of Pazzo Southside’s meatball salad, a dish that Italian-Americans raised in New York, like proprietors Victoria and Michael Calore, are very familiar with. Between them, the Calore’s have owned five different restaurants, starting in Brooklyn and Staten Island before finally relocating to sunny Sarasota where they opened, and recently sold, the local-famous Mozzarella Fella. 

Now at Pazzo, Michael says that Italians like to eat their salads after a meal, while Vicky says, “there’s no way my motha’ was gonna let us kids dirty another set of dishes.” The result is an entire generation of Italian-Americans that grew up eating their salads on the same plate as their pasta. And when the pasta is gone, all that’s left is a plate smeared with Sunday sauce (or Sunday gravy, depending on who you ask), a tomato-based concoction that stews for many hours and includes all of the week’s leftover cuts of meat—meatballs, pork chops, spare ribs and sausage. So, what may seem like an odd salad at first glance is an everyday dish for the Calores. There is nothing unusual to them about mixing the warm, savory, hearty meatballs with the crisp, cool, tangy toss of shredded romaine, oil, vinegar and parmesan. Patrons are encouraged to mash all the ingredients together to enjoy the bold contrast on their palette, most pronounced when a forkful includes an ample dose of vinegar-soaked greens.

And while the Main Street establishment offered sandwiches and salads that quickly made a name for themselves, the Calores, especially chef Michael, were ready to climb the restaurant ladder to a bigger and better space. Michael learned his way around a kitchen as a teenager in NY, and he wanted an opportunity to flex his culinary muscle with a broader menu. His is a classic, American self-taught fairy tale, and following in his footsteps is son Andrew Calore. Andrew handles all of the baking at Pazzo, including pizzas and desserts. He developed Pazzo’s cheesecake recipe like a mad scientist discovers laws of physics—research, ingenuity, intuition and good old-fashioned trial and error. The result is a light, delicate dessert drizzled with chocolate and caramel sauce, served with whipped cream and a strawberry garnish. 

With so many Calores running around, Pazzo feels very much like a family restaurant. It is the kind of place that could serve as a regular hangout for characters in a sitcom, a place where the employees know guests by their first name and where orders are taken amidst familiar conversation—how are Gracie and Vin doing, are they playing baseball this year? And the family extends to employees, many of whom have been with Michael and Vicky for years and refuse to work elsewhere, even when the Calores were in transition from Mozzarella Fella to Pazzo. They all get together on holidays, enjoy a glass of wine when the restaurant closes, and have the kind of banter one would expect at a Sunday dinner at grandma’s. During peak hours, the restaurant is loud like the tail end of that traditional Sunday dinner, and Vicky has no qualms with telling inquiring customers so on the phone. “I have to be honest, if you’re looking for a quiet night out, we’re probably not for you,” she’ll say. It’s all infectiously idyllic, like a Norman Rockwell painting, a quaint throwback snapshot of Italian-American history, when industrious Italian immigrants worked hard to put simple and delicious food on the table. When guests browse the one-page, no-nonsense menu, they won’t find cuisine-bending items with difficult names to pronounce, but will instead find themselves dining on an elevated legacy of tasty working-class staples. If that sounds a little pazzo*, tough luck.   

* crazy