Driving north on U.S. 41 Bypass South in Venice, you might run into road construction just before Wee Blew Inn and Brick Yard Plaza. Don’t let that throw you.
There’s a trio of eatery treats in the strip mall on your right, two of them brand new, with flutter banners guiding you in.
Baci Pizza & Ristorante
When Frank Garofalo and his wife, Maria, found the Naples location for Baci Pizza & Ristorante in 2014, Frank climbed a ladder to salvage the letters B, A, C and I from the former Beach Deli’s sign.
The new name — Baci — means “kisses” in Italian.
Kisses and kudos are exactly what the couple have been getting from Southwest Floridians ever since they first relocated their Neapolitan Brooklyn-style pizza to Naples, Florida. They’ve also been nailing TripAdvisor’s top-rated pizza there every year since.
Frank’s parents brought the family to New York from Naples, Italy, when he was 10. By the time he was 18, Frank had worked in enough Bensonhurst pizza shops that he was ready to open his own, “and then I went on, and on, and on, until a few years ago we decided to move to Florida and open our first store in Naples.”
This August, the Garofalos found another sweet spot (albeit a long commute) in Venice, bringing with them their signature red-checkered tablecloths, marble counter and recipes.
Equally outgoing New Yorker Johnny Censullo, who’s known Frank since they were kids in Brooklyn, can be found there with him most days, manning sauté pans and ovens.
They serve homemade daily entrée specials, garlic knots, gigantic Sicilian-style arancini (rice balls) and multiple gourmet pizzas by the slice.
Their best-known pizza, from Naples to Venice, is the famous Grandma, based on the bedsheet-sized pie, made with garden-fresh tomatoes and garlic, that Frank’s grandmother baked for her 40 grandkids on Fridays.
“I changed it a little,” said Frank. “We make our own mozzarella.”
Frank apparently goes where the growth is, too. He’s seeking new Baci Pizza locations in North Port and Bonita Springs.
Baci ($-$$), 941-451-8362, 765 U.S. Highway 41 Bypass South, Venice, is open Monday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday from 11 a.m.
Venice Ale House
It’s been a year since Debbie Walden opened her Greek diner-style Venice Ale House with business partner Bob Bailey.
A proprietor whose Jersey-diner wisecracks and warm laughter let every customer relax and feel at home, Debbie stands behind the comforting promise “A Hot Meal, Genuine Hospitality, & Cold Beer Every Day.”
Nearly every day features its own, often-alliterative spotlight—Meatloaf Monday, Taco Tuesday, Wednesday Night Trivia from 6 to 8 p.m., Keto Thursday, Friday AYCE Fish Fry and frequent Greek Days. True to its name, the Ale House has 20 draft beers.
Venice Ale House ($-$$), 941-303-6906, 775 U.S. 41 Bypass South, is now open daily 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
At 27 years old, Bud’s Restaurant is a Venice breakfast institution which new owner Chris Taranto and silent partner Ben Bigelow have transformed thanks to Taranto’s lifelong passion for home-style scratch cooking. And now it’s open for lunch, too.
“Even Bud and Barbara, the original owners for 15 years, have started coming in every week and giving me constructive criticism,” said Taranto. “It’s pretty neat.”
Venice physical therapist Linda Herrera has returned three times in the two months since Bud’s changed hands, doing her part to help the new Bud’s succeed. A fan of fresh-and-healthy restaurants like First Watch, she actually prefers small businesses that turn out a similarly unique product.
“The chicken salad wrap is really interesting and flavorful,” she said. “It has things in it!”
Typical of Taranto’s creative touches, those “things” include nuts, cranberries and, according to Herrera, “a wonderful mustardy whatever.”
Taranto makes his own delicate Caesar dressing, a beefed-up burger list, soup of the day including gumbo and daily specials like National Waffle Day’s red velvet, carrot cake and s’mores waffles.
Every first Sunday of the month is live-jazz brunch and a New Orleans menu with the likes of shrimp étouffée, bananas Foster French toast and Cajun eggs Benedict.
Bud’s ($), 941-485-6092, 789 U.S. Highway 41 Bypass South, now takes credit cards and is open for lunch as well as all-day-long breakfast, Monday to Saturday 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sunday from 7:30 a.m.