At the Jay Luigi in St. Petersburg, the Italian takes a fast and laid-back twist

ST. PETERSBURG — A wild yeast named Little Nicky is on the rise in St. Petersburg.

After traveling from Ischia, Italy, Little Nicky lives in a restaurant kitchen on Fourth Street N, where the fizzy starter is used to create soft, naturally fermented pizza dough – a three-day process from start to finish. end.

The dough yields fluffy, bubbly “NY-Apolitan” pies and, at higher hydration, squares of Roman pizza.

For Jay Luigi’s owner, Jay Brunetti, Little Nicky is the star of the show.

He talks about live yeast endearingly: “Nicky ferments and eats for a whole day,” he will say. “Nicky is a big deal.”

Fermentation puns aside, Little Nicky seems to be off to a good start.

Jay Luigi, which opened in January at 3201 Fourth St. N, offers a modern, casual take on Italian dining with take-out, dine-in or delivery options. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

The restaurant, the latest venture of the Ciccio Restaurant Group, opened in January and has attracted neighborhood regulars and Ciccio fans. The hallmarks of CRG are all there: a fast and relaxed model combined with current culinary trends, a strong emphasis on gluten-free and dairy-free options, and an elegant design.

But I wouldn’t group this place with restaurants like Fresh Kitchen or Taco Dirty. Jay Luigi takes it up a notch, with a welcoming all-day vibe and a menu focused on creative Italian cuisine.

The menu has many gluten-free options, including the Cannellini Cauli rice bowl.
The menu has many gluten-free options, including the Cannellini Cauli rice bowl. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Customers order and pay at the entrance, then sit down. The tables are equipped with QR codes, so when the craving for a second glass of wine or an extra slice of limoncello cake strikes, all you have to do is check the menu, order and to pay.

For people who prefer to order from a human, there is a handy little tag on the table marker that reads “Desperate for attention”, which can be used to flag a waiter.

The sit-yourself format is not without its setbacks: when the place is crowded, there aren’t always tables available and guests have to wait for one to become free. There’s a bar to grab drinks and canapes outside so you can linger while you wait.

Jay Luigi's lobby bar offers a place where guests can dine or linger over a glass of wine while waiting for a table.
Jay Luigi’s lobby bar offers a place where guests can dine or linger over a glass of wine while waiting for a table. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
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I’m a fan of the bar seating, a front and center perch that looks directly into the kitchen. A selection of wines on tap from Tampa-based cask wine distributor Wine Stream is served by the glass ($7) or carafe ($25), and there’s also a short, heavy list of bottles. Italian and Californian labels. Craft beers on tap have a strong focus on local brews (including Trinity’s Escape Brewing Co., Cigar City Brewing, and Safety Harbor’s Crooked Thumb Brewery) as well as Italian Reserve Peroni ($5).

Brunetti knows a thing or two about pizza. He was co-founder of Forbici, another wildly successful Italian restaurant in Tampa’s Hyde Park Village. And he owns Brunetti Pizza, with locations in New York’s West Village and the Hamptons.

The natural fermentation process he uses for the dough in his restaurants lends itself to a “gluten-free” pie, although being a Ciccio company, there are also gluten-free crusts.

The selection of Roman-style pies includes the Scarlett, topped with braised broccolini, provolone and sausage.
The selection of Roman-style pies includes the Scarlett, topped with braised broccolini, provolone and sausage. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

A hybrid of New York and Neapolitan pizzas, NY-Apolitan pies feature thin crusts with the characteristic bubbles of a Neapolitan pizza cooked over high heat. (The restaurant’s electric oven, imported from Italy, reaches 800 degrees.) But they stay structured — the slices hold their shape, so there’s no floppy bending here.

I’m up for anything topped with soppressata, including the Sweet Jamie Kay ($16), a lovely pie topped with thin pieces of spiced jerky, fresh mozzarella (homemade), and a drizzle of honey from Calabria. For white pie lovers, you can’t go wrong with the Green Eyes Bianca ($16), topped with mozzarella, ricotta and Grana Padano cheeses and thick slivers of green olives.

NY-Apolitan pizzas include Green Eyes Bianca Pie, topped with three different cheeses and green olives.
NY-Apolitan pizzas include Green Eyes Bianca Pie, topped with three different cheeses and green olives. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

The Roman-style squares feature an airy, chewy crust — a good bet is the Scarlett ($17), topped with provolone, braised broccolini, sausage and a spicy Calabrian tomato sauce.

The restaurant’s pasta program relies on freshly made noodles from the Clearwater Tampasta Company. For gluten showers, it is possible to replace them with gluten-free linguine (made with potato starch and rice flour) or spaghetti squash.

While not the easiest dish to pull off, a classic cacio e pepe ($15) doesn’t disappoint, with bouncy strands of spaghetti wrapped in a light, peppery sauce. Grana Padano cheese brings salty and umami notes, and panko breadcrumbs add texture. Also good is the limoncello pasta ($14), a dish that has become a signature dish for the restaurant, with tubes of fluffy rigatoni tossed in a bright, lemony sauce and punctuated with savory, fruity bites of fermented lemon zest and the hot heat of Fresno peppers.

It can all be topped off with side dishes and small plates, including the must-have crispy artichokes ($9), which are served with a creamy aioli that packs a punch of Calabrian chilies. The charred broccolini ($8) are a lovely side dish and arrive dressed in a cashew vinaigrette, punchy with garlic and lemon.

Limoncello pasta is made with rigatoni tossed in a bright, lemony sauce sprinkled with fermented lemon peel and Fresno peppers.
Limoncello pasta is made with rigatoni tossed in a bright, lemony sauce sprinkled with fermented lemon peel and Fresno peppers. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

The restaurant recently added free valet parking. If it’s raining, an employee carrying a giant umbrella will accompany you from your car to the restaurant. It may be a welcome boost for some, but the walk to the restaurant while a stranger holds an umbrella over your head can be inconvenient and, due to the small size of the parking lot, unnecessary. .

Despite the current restaurant-to-dining success, around 60% of the place’s business still comes from takeout – a trend that Brunetti isn’t sure will subside.

But maybe that’s what makes it the perfect place for Ciccio, after all. The element of personal choice – dine in, takeout, substitute whatever you want – is part of the deal.

The dining area inside the restaurant has seating for approximately 30 people.
The dining area inside the restaurant has seating for approximately 30 people. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

If you are going to

Or: 3201 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg. 727-390-8883. jayluigi.com.

Hours: Lunch and dinner, 11:30am-9pm Tuesday to Thursday, 11:30am-10pm Friday, 11am-10pm Saturday, 11am-9pm Sunday.

Prices: Plates and salads to share, $8 to $10; pizzas and pastas, $14 to $17.

Don’t jump: Fried artichokes, limoncello pasta, Scarlett pizza.

Details: Credit cards accepted. Indoor and outdoor seating available. Wheelchair accessible. Delivery via Uber Eats. Gluten-free and dairy-free dishes available.

About Jonathan Bell

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