SEMINOLE — Opening new restaurants is old hat for Vinny Fortunato. The restaurateur has opened more than 20 in 45 years.
It’s no surprise that Fortunato’s name is familiar to you. He’s the man behind Fortunato’s Italian Pizzeria, a longtime restaurant in Tampa Bay, with locations in Seminole, South Pasadena and St. Petersburg.
Fortunato once again taps into its Italian roots with its latest culinary adventure, Osteria Bricco.
The restaurant, which is in downtown Seminole, serves authentic Italian cuisine, with an emphasis on quality ingredients and fresh, simple preparation, he said.
“All of our ingredients come from Italy,” Fortunato said, which includes cheese, flour, tomatoes, olive oil and pasta, all from Naples.
“I’m from over there,” he said. “I want it to be as close to being in an old country Italian restaurant.”
Fortunato has also imported a gigantic pizza oven, which he says contains lava rock from Mount Vesuvius.
“I don’t care who you are over there,” he said, pointing to the kitchen. “If you don’t have the right product, that’s okay.”
It’s not just the Italian ingredients that Fortunato has in the kitchen at Osteria Bricco, but the chefs as well.
“You have to have the right people,” Fortunato said. “My guys there (in the kitchen) are all from Italy.
“To cook Italian food, you have to have the right palate,” he continued.
Fortunato spent his formative years in a village on the Gulf of Naples, with the restaurant’s co-owner, Nino Scotto.
“Our fathers were friends, so we have a history,” he said.
Scotto, who lives in Harrisburg, owns six restaurants in Pennsylvania.
Fortunato emigrated to the United States in 1976, initially hoping to become a lawyer.
“But I had to find work to support myself,” he said. “My English wasn’t very good at the time, I only spoke Italian. So there were only two options for me: either go and work as a showman or work in Italian restaurants. And I chose restaurants.
“That’s where I learned to do this,” he continued.
Fortunato was a quick learner and just two years later opened his first restaurant outside of Baltimore.
The restaurateur moved to Florida in 1990 and continued to lead the way in the culinary world. He first opened the Fortunato Pizzeria in the old Seminole Mall. Now based in downtown Seminole, Fortunato said he feels like he’s come full circle.
“I always wanted to come back to Seminole,” he said.
The restaurant’s bestsellers, Fortunato said, include pasta pappardelle, spaghetti bolognese, lasagna and rigatoni, which sell out quickly.
Osteria Bricco opened its doors just four weeks ago and has been running non-stop, Fortunato said.
“He left like wild horses,” he said. “And like a wild horse, you have to tame it.
“And I’m going to tame it,” Fortunato said with a laugh.
Osteria Bricco, 7839 113th St. N. Unit E, Seminole, is open 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday; and from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
Photos of LOGAN MOSBY GEORGE
Photos courtesy of OSTERIA BRICCO