It’s no secret that West Villages and environs are a restaurant magnet. But the precise coordinates of two eatery spinoffs have remained closely guarded secrets.
The new, Publix-anchored West Villages Marketplace is slated for at least five eateries — including a third Bocca Lupo, China One, Fuji Noodle and the newest brainchild of a certain Venice entrepreneur.
And Phil Solorzano, pizzapreneur-in-chief of four Jersey-style eateries, long ago set his sights on North Port, predicting, “Sarasota is maxed out, but North Port’s where it’s at.”
OTW REVEALS ADDRESS OF SISTER EATERY
Five years ago, Tommy Villani sat in his South Venice pub, Off The Wagon, and asked, “What’s West Villages?”
These days, he and Off The Wagon Brewery & Kitchen’s rockstar executive chef, Mike Leopold, spend all their weekends testing recipes for a new taco-tequila bar there.
When Villani first heard about West Villages, he hadn’t even dreamed of turning OTW into today’s full-on brewery with a gourmet menu.
At first, OTW’s signature brews were an inhouse-only enterprise, but Villani knows opportunity when he sees it. He soon had 3 Bridges beers flowing outside OTW, in CoolToday Park’s tiki bar and several Venice taverns.
Anyone who knows Villani also knows that he’s not shy about helping the community or launching outside-the-box new concepts.
For instance, the day after Hurricane Irma had left thousands without water or power, Villani and Leopold opened OTW to feed them. The menu was modest. All Chef Mike could make were gourmet tacos.
For that one day OTW became “Irma’s Taco Bar,” a community oasis that plated over 500 tacos and filled water bottles for a grateful public.
Then a lightbulb went off.
Why not keep a good thing going? Villani figured.
Leopold’s reaction? “OK, boss. Let’s do it!”
Villani, a tequila connoisseur, announced a spinoff concept tipping the hat to his popup taco shop: Irma’s Tacos, Craft Beer & Tequila Bar ($).
Its location was, until recently, unknown. Now, nobody’s surprised that it will be at West Villages Marketplace, in the right-hand outbuilding flanking Publix, across the parking lot from Bocca Lupo’s future space.
Irma’s doesn’t look like much yet, but by February 2020 the place will sport a trendy Mexican/Southwestern tiled bar, tequila-bottle pendant lights, open chef’s kitchen and backlit tequila display. A 300-square-foot patio will offer loungey outdoor seating.
The 2,400-square-foot, 80-seat space will feature more than two dozen Mexican street tacos named after hurricanes and served in bowls or on house-made flour or corn tortillas. Chef Mike’s tacos include not only pulled pork, seafood, barbacoa and ribeye, but vegan and vegetarian options, too.
On tap, 15 to 18 3 Bridges beers, including custom Irma’s lagers, and, on the shelf, 100 tequilas for 25 craft margaritas — now being previewed in weekly taco and margarita specials at OTW.
And don’t be fooled. Tommy Villani isn’t finished at West Villages by a long shot.
“We’re gonna have some fun this year,” he hinted. “West Villages is the most exciting thing going on in Southwest Florida. People who live there are dying to have more places to go eat, drink and enjoy themselves.”
Off The Wagon Brewery & Kitchen ($-$$), 941-497-2048, 2107 Tamiami Trail South (Galleria Plaza behind Metro Diner), Venice, is open Monday to Thursday 11 a.m. to midnight, Friday and Saturday to 2 a.m., and Sunday noon to 10 p.m.
“This is where I should have opened 14 years ago,” said Phil Solorzano. “We kill it in Sarasota, but down here is gonna be nuts.”
He runs four other Solorzano’s — Solorzano’s Pizzeria Siesta Key, Gulf Gate Late Night Pizzeria and a new shop in Longboat Key. His Venice pizzeria is in the process of moving across the street to 253 Tamiami Trail South. His brother, Carlos Jr., operates Solorzano Bros. Old-Fashioned Pizza in Sarasota.
All of them share the cocky motto “Nobody Makes Pizza Like We Do,” which originated at Phil’s father, Carlos’, pizzeria in 1970s Hoboken.
Phil’s next growth spurt will be a North Port Solorzano’s at 13001 Tamiami Trail, the former Rob’s Pizzeria location, in December.
When asked about his latest store, Phil said, “I’m not playin’ no games. The boom that we have is out of control, and we’re gonna keep it going. In North Port, I’ll be sticking to pizza by the slice, dine-in, takeout. And delivery is our main hustle.”
North Port will duplicate the Venice menu and serve beer and wine. If it follows Solorzano’s formula, it will open for lunch and dinner seven days a week, with late delivery until midnight.
On Facebook, Phil crowed, “Your dreams have been answered, #RealJerseyPizza coming soon! Conveniently located next to Domino’s and Hungry Howies! Lol.”