Quality Ingredients Made Legendary

Angelo Elia creates a restaurant empire.

Chef and entrepreneur Angelo Elia doesn’t like to reinvent the wheel when it comes to his cuisine. “Quality is the No. 1 priority. That’s why we use top-of-the-line whatever there is–from meat, from fish, from poultry, anything,” he says at his flagship Casa D’Angelo Ristorante in Fort Lauderdale. “I like to do real great traditional food from homemade pasta to gravy sauce.”

A birthday celebrant at his restaurant agreed a few days later, marveling at how his chicken was perfectly, crispy cooked. That revelation came after visiting many South Florida restaurants where chicken breast often ends up as dry as the Sahara. And he finally found a bar that actually knew how to make an outstanding Old Fashioned—this one with Redemption Wheat, Calabrese Honey, Hella Bitters, Chili Threads and a Gold Ice Cube.

“This is simple, done great,” he declared.

Apparently, a lot of folks agree. The restaurant was nearly empty when we arrived on a Saturday night at 5:30, but it was packed when we left a couple of hours later. The last iteration of Angelo’s expansion results in a series of linear dining rooms, going past a view of the kitchen line and showing off an impressive wine collection in glimmering cases.

Since 1998, Casa D’Angelo has won top awards from Wine Spectator and Italian publisher Gambero Rosso. The Fort Lauderdale restaurant has 20,000 bottles and a 70-page wine list. Wine Director Koen Kersemans has been with Elia since 2001. A private room, called The Wine World, can seat up to 70 people. It’s not much of a surprise to hear Elia has many friends among the top winemakers in Italy, such as Angelo Gaja and Piero Antinori.

But there’s a lot more than the flagship restaurant for Angelo Elia Group.

Starting 25 years ago, Elia has combined his love and skill of food to create a restaurant empire that includes four fine dining restaurants, four Angelo Elia Pizza, Bar and Tapas locations and one Angelo The Bakery Bar. He is the sole owner of his restaurants, which have almost 400 employees. It was tough during COVID, but he managed to avoid layoffs. Reflecting on his success, he says none of it would have been possible without his wife, Denise.

Elia successfully combines business acumen with the hard-earned scars of a chef who still works the line in the kitchen and can be found stuffing ravioli or making sauce one day and baking pizzas another.

The dishes at Casa D’Angelo are different from what he calls the Brooklyn or New Jersey style of Italian American cuisine, which can be heavy on the sauce and cheese. If you go to Tuscany, Naples or Milan, you will find the type of Italian cuisine he favors, which is often light and delicate. “I’m not overpowering anything,” Elia says.

He doesn’t want to put 20 seasonings on a piece of fish and instead lets the flavor of the meat shine.

“I put on one or two items; white wine, a lemon, parsley, things like that. I do very simple food,” he says. “House made” is a frequent description on the menu, including a lot of the pasta. He’s exacting about tomatoes coming from southern Italy.

Casa D’Angelo is known for having wine pairings with white truffles when they are harvested in October and November. The truffles can go from $2,500 to $5,000 a pound and his restaurants can go through three pounds in a week. He doesn’t think there is anyone else in the U.S. dealing in that quantity.

Casa D’Angelo has expanded over the years into Boca Raton, Aventura and Aspen, CO, where he has a second home. The Aspen location came about when a friend was retiring and told Angelo he was the one he trusted to continue.

The Aventura location was originally going to be a more casual restaurant, but Elia said he thought a more upscale restaurant was needed in the market. After overcoming the challenges of the COVID pandemic, he thinks it already ranks as the top restaurant in the market.

Elia loves the pizza bar concept, saying, “It’s so easy. So fast. So fresh.” When he opened a pizza bar up Federal Highway from the Casa D’Angelo flagship, he was warned that he might be competing with himself. That didn’t happen.

His pizza bar strategy still puts an emphasis on quality food, but it doesn’t offer high-end items like dover soles or grilled chops. He likes how it is affordable for families to come in.

“We still sell a great pasta at a great price. We still sell some great fish,” says Elia, who comes off as matter of fact confident, but not braggadocious. “We do a lot of pizza on the menu … It’s really great and the concept is perfect.”

His bakery was inspired by his heritage from the Amalfi Coast of Italy.

“When we go there, the first thing we do is just go to a bakery and try to get everything,” he says. “I wanted to try to bring a baker here for many years and finally I did.”

There’s a big variety of croissants—chocolate, pistachio, almond, apricot, Nutella and multigrain. There is an array of bread for paninis, whether it’s baguettes and multigrain to ciabatta and the thin Italian flatbread known as Piadina. There’s an extensive selection of Neapolitan cakes, cookies and pastries.

One video on social media and The Bakery Bar website shows Elia pulling apart a croissant that oozes a long, thick string of Nutella. It went viral and snared a half million views.

With all the restaurants, the staff never quite knows when he will pop in. One day he’s on the line and another he’s making a surprise visit to Aspen for a week. He says, “I can be honest with you. I can just be behind the scenes and not do much. Just be over here, show my face, but I’m on the line most of the time.”

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