Levi Tischler and Alfonso Di Bonito have two things in common: they both began cooking at the young age of 14 and they both have a passion for food and hospitality.
These two friends, who hail from Romania and Italy respectively, have now merged their passions to bring Pazzo Italiano Ristorante & Bar to Destin.
“We worked together for three years at another Italian restaurant in Destin and we were so passionate about what we were doing – even more passionate than the owners,” said Di Bonito.
“For both of us, the dream was the restaurant,” said Tischler.
The two say they make a perfect pair, with Di Bonito heading up the cooking and Tischler running the hospitality operations.
“I am the front of house and he is the chef, that is the perfect combo,” said Tischler.
Di Bonito said he believes he was born with his passion for cooking.
“The way my mom showed her passion to us was cooking for us everyday; that’s maybe where my passion came from,” he said. “Italians love to cook; The food is not just for filling up your belly – it’s a way to get together, to show love. We try to bring the passion with the food.”
Di Bonito added that he tried to incorporate his childhood memories of Italian pizzerias into the Destin restaurant.
“When I was little, and would go to a local pizza bar, I was always close to the pizza chef looking to see what he was doing,” he said. “I tried to create the same atmosphere from when I was little. Sure enough, kids love to sit at the pizza bar and watch me.”
Although he brought a brick oven back from Italy for the pizza bar, pizza is not the only specialty served up at Pazzo Italiano.
“We specialize on pasta, pizza and meat dishes,” said Di Bonito. “The base sauces are from my family recipes, but I put my own twist on it.”
The restaurant has only been open for a month, but already the two say they have regulars and popular menu items.
“We have highlighted menu items such as the garlic rolls, the porchetta (slow cooked boneless pork roast served with bread and topped with ricotta cheese and local honey) and home made desserts,” said Tischler.
Di Bonito said the Nutella calzone was his favorite dessert on the menu.
“When people ask if pizza is for dessert, I tell them yes! Once they have it they cannot stop, they keep coming back. They love it!” he said.
As for the décor, Pazzo Italiano has the feel of a high-end restaurant, with sleek marble countertops, copper inlaid walls and industrial bar-bulb lighting. However, Di Bonito and Tischler insist their restaurant is both chic and casual.
“We always wanted to do a modern place,” said Di Bonito. “A lot of people come here for the beach and want a beach restaurant, but the locals that live here don’t have a nice restaurant to hang out. So (now) all the locals have a nice spot.”
“We are from Europe, so we are used to this kind of style,” added Tischler. “It’s a trendy eatery for families, with a full bar and a nice pizza bar so you can see the chef.”