Joe DiMaggio, Jr. and Café Barbosso

“The Greatest Show” in Sarasota, Florida!

By Fred Bollaci

When proud New Yorkers think of the name Joe DiMaggio, images of Yankees baseball nostalgia and Marilyn Monroe might come to mind. However, if you’re fortunate enough to have dined in one of Chef Joe DiMaggio Jr.’s restaurants (Café Barbosso in Sarasota, FL or Sa Za in Madison, and Montgomery, Alabama), you will forever connect home run-worthy balls of a different kind to the name. Chef Joe DiMaggio Jr. is a cousin of the baseball great. In fact, he and I were both born in the same hospital on Long Island (Glen Cove) and grew up on Long Island’s North Shore before emigrating to Florida. Chef Joe learned from his family recipes (which are similar to mine, originating in Italy, and adjusted by what was fresh and fashionable in 1970’s Long Island), so on our first visit to Chef Joe’s Sarasota restaurant, even the toughest critics of authentic Italian-American cuisine, including my mother who has a waiting list for meatballs had only positive things to say! We’ve since become friends and regulars, enjoying the electric ambience of a bustling Italian restaurant, as good as any in New York, with platters of delicious food being pitched from a standout kitchen, served by a professional, attentive squad, combined with a live artist studio featuring a handful of local artists who paint live in the restaurant nightly, and whose works adorn the colorful walls, and are available for purchase. Nowhere has the combination of two of our favorite passions—food and art taken center stage like this!

Café Barbosso and Chef Joe DiMaggio do not serve your standard red checkered tablecloth Italian-American fare. This is many cuts above, it is Italian-American meets global cuisine. In fact, Chef Joe is proficient in 35 cuisines, having studied around the world, under two-star Michelin chef Jacques Maximin at the Negresco Hotel in Nice, France, under Roger Vergé at Hotel San Raphael in Cannes, and Wolfgang Puck in California. Still, for elevated versions of cherished favorites, nobody does it better. Take Chef Joe’s Ultimate Eggplant. It’s Eggplant Parmigiana, elevated. Twelve ethereal layers, sauce and bechamel delicately painted between each, topped with mozzarella and baked to perfection, served like Lasagna, it’s light as air. And yes, this meatball aficionado can affirm that Café Barbosso has serious balls—meatballs, that is! We can’t pass up one of their pizzas, with freshly made dough and gourmet toppings, including Joe’s favorite Lamb Kefta, a surprisingly addictive combination based on a Moroccan recipe, in addition to his Tomato Pie and other New York and Neapolitan-style pizzas. Barbosso does a great Mozzarella in Carrozza, a batter-dipped and fried fresh mozzarella sandwich in a veal demiglace. For Entrées, you better have a pasta (or else), such as Joe’s take on Carbonara, with a fresh egg yolk tossed at the table, or the special house made Lobster Ravioli in a vibrant Saffron Cream Sauce. For everyday dining elevated to something special, or for a special occasion that knocks it out of the park, Café Barbosso is a perennial winner.

People in the know travel from far and wide to dine here, with good reason. The highlight of Café Barbosso, and one of the top culinary experiences on Florida’s West Coast is Chef Joe DiMaggio’s “Chef’s Table” Dinners. These are booked by reservation only, months in advance, and can be customized, or left to the chef’s discretion, taking into account allergies or dietary restrictions. I’ve had the pleasure of attending many times, it’s a perfect way to celebrate a special occasion or treat discerning out-of-town guests. A typical Chef’s Table experience at Café Barbosso lasts about three hours, and consists of 6-8 courses, including dessert. The table, which can be booked for up to 16 guests, is the shape of an ark, made of hand-carved wood, in the middle of the restaurant—it is where Chef Joe holds court and entertains his guests, the way one might expect to be wowed at a hibachi table at Benihana, but only in his inimitable Italian-American New York style. The table, as well as some of the dishes on a typical Chef’s Table menu feature global influences, especially Asian and Japanese, an homage to the time Chef Joe spent studying in Japan. A recent Chef’s Table experience started with a freshly-made “Nonna’s” or Grandma Pizza, with fresh mozzarella and fresh tomatoes, just to whet the appetite. Next came Joe’s version of Dim Sum, Pacific White Shrimp Siu Mai with a spicy red pepper coulis—delizioso! The third course was fresh Conch flown in that day from the Bahamas, lightly sauteed in a slightly spicy tomato sauce, served over fresh pasta. One of my favorite dishes anywhere, and most certainly Caviar presentations is Chef Joe’s Brioche French Toast Blinis with Ossetra. Joe dips the hand-cut rounds of fresh brioche in an egg batter and fries them before us—the aroma is intoxicating. Then, a dollop of lemon crème fraiche, and a mound of Ossetra, straight into the mouth! OMG! Next, we tasted Chef’s famous Timballo, a pot of pasta baked with a crown of fresh dough, then cut and served tableside. Every dish is prepared and served with precision and panache while you watch. Then fresh, local Florida Red Snapper, and a perfectly-cooked Wagyu beef Tenderloin, and Joe’s famous Amaretto Tiramisu.

In his three-plus decades in the restaurant and food business, Chef Joe has access to an incredible rolodex of fanciful foods from around the world, which he can bring home to Sarasota within 24 hours to tantalize your tastebuds! Local philanthropists and partners Sherry and Tom Koski bet on DiMaggio’s success and have delivered a winner of epic proportions at Café Barbosso. DiMaggio has had the honor of cooking for innumerable celebrities, including Frank Sinatra, Al Pacino, the cast of The Sopranos, Scarface, and U2. He has personally designed hundreds of restaurants globally, using his winning formula, creating a worldwide recipe for success. Plan your own one-of-a-kind Chef’s Table event and you will be wowed! In a town known for its arts, theater, and connection to the circus, Café Barbosso, and Chef Joe DiMaggio, Jr. is definitely, at least from a food perspective, “The Greatest Show in Sarasota!”

Chef Joe loves to interact and banter with his guests, which makes it even more fun! His motto is, “You come here, you eat like you’re headed to jail,” a nod to his New York friend and muse, Frankie “Bumps” Barbosso, a “rabble rouser” for whom the restaurant was named! The wine list is a good bullpen of Italian and American favorites, with something at every price point, plus there is full cocktail bar, and popular happy hour (food and drinks), as well as live music Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. When you go to Café Barbosso, be sure to tell Chef Joe that Fred Bollaci and VENÜ Magazine sent you. And…don’t forget the house rules. Eat your pasta, mind your business, and pay your bill! ☐

Café Barbosso
5501 Palmer Crossing Circle
Sarasota, FL 34233