Some restaurants give you an immediate impression—good or not so good—as soon as you walk in the door. Stepping in, after blessing the A/C, if you are greeted with the sounds of happy conversation, the sight of bustling servers, and savory scents floating out from the kitchen, you know you picked the right place. Like Pazzo Italiano (“Crazy Italian”) in Destin.
My wife, our daughter Grace (the Tiny Diner) and I ate at Pazzo on a recent post-Fourth evening. They accept reservations but I can never estimate driving times during summer, so we took a chance without one. The place was more than half-full when we got there at 6:15, and completely full within an hour.
The restaurant is a large rectangle, divided by a partition. To the left is the bar area, with tall tables, intimate booths and plenty of space to eat opposite the liquor display. On the right, the main dining area is more open, set with booths and tables, with seating along a wall banquette. Spacing was wide enough to facilitate conversation without compulsory eavesdropping. We got a table along the wall, where blackboards displaying drink and dinner specials are posted.
Pazzo is decorated is shades of beige, brown, copper, silver and gold, with polished wood, brick and high ceilings. Lighting is stylish lamp and bare-bulb industrial. “Simple yet elegant” is an apt description. At the back of the restaurant is a counter in front of an oven that looks like Darth Vader’s head. A constantly moving cook prepares and bakes pizza after pizza.
Our server Andrei brought us water, a basket of warm country bread and seasoned olive oil, and menus. The bread was dense, chewy and crusty. We polished it off pretty fast.
Pazzo’s menu offers appetizers, salads, sandwiches, artisanal pizzas, calzones, pasta variations, and main courses. I figured any place with a wood fired oven and 14 kinds of pizza wants you to try the pizza, so I ordered one with Gorgonzola, mozzarella, caramelized onions and grilled chicken. TD got a children’s pizza with cheese and tomato sauce, and my wife went classic with veal saltimbocca.
Before all that, we had to warm up with an appetizer. The menu offered porchetta, antipasto, burrata with prosciutto, seafood soup, mussels, bruschetta, fried calamari, shrimp fra diavolo, and mussels with cannellini beans. We ordered porchetta – slow cooked seasoned pork roast served on crostini, with a little pot of creamy ricotta, drizzled with honey. The pork was tender and rich, and the sweetened cheese was the perfect contrasting accompaniment.
After giving us time to enjoy the porchetta, Andrei returned and asked us if we were ready for the main course. I really appreciated the fact that we were not rushed (even though the place was busy), and that our food hadn’t been sitting back in the kitchen all that time.
Our meal arrived, freshly prepared, the pizzas still popping from the oven. They were big—sharing big, even TD’s. Mine was a quadruple treat—salty, creamy, sweet and chewy. I ate about a third of it and boxed the rest. My wife’s saltimbocca, sautéed veal topped with prosciutto, mozzarella and porcini mushroom sauce, seasoned with slivers of cured pork (guanciale, maybe?), was a fragrant and hearty feast for about three eaters.
Other options include fettucine Bolognese and Alfredo, penne with vodka tomato cream sauce, spaghetti carbonara or marinara, lasagna, capellini with shrimp, pappardelle with sausage, vegetarian pasta, ravioli, eggplant, veal or chicken parmigiana, cannelloni, veal or chicken piccata and marsala, grilled salmon piccante, and pasta with clams or mixed seafood. Pizzas include margherita, quattro stagione, diavola, Genovese, sostanziosa, bianca, porchetta, and alfonso, with classic, napoletano, and rustic calzones. Salads can be ordered with salmon, chicken or shrimp.
Having boxed much of the meal, we ordered a single dessert for all, a flourless chocolate cake. A generous glossy slice of fudgy, bittersweet chocolate came served on a plate dusted with powdered sugar, drizzled with chocolate syrup and garnished with whipped cream. My wife ate a few bites and left TD and I to split the rest. That plate we cleaned.
Other desserts are tiramisu, cannoli, and a Nutella calzone. There was also a special dessert, limoncello mascarpone cake. Another day.
When we left, the bar area was packed with drinkers, snackers and diners. Nearly every table was full, and large groups kept rolling in. Faces were smiling and people looked relaxed and satisfied—all this in the heart of summer season. Well done, Crazy Italian.