Ciao! Italian Bistro's new pork chop entree is just one of many additions to the restaurant's revamped menu.
Ciao! Italian Bistro’s new pork chop entree is just one of many additions to the restaurant’s revamped menu.

By Gary Nager | September 14

Although we currently have some outstanding pizza places in New Tampa and Wesley Chapel, we’ve never really had a great Italian restaurant. And, although some folks in the area seemed to enjoy Pagelli’s Italian Restaurant when it opened in the Shops at Wiregrass mall a couple of years ago, the owners decided a year or so ago to revamp the concept and change the name to Ciao! Italian Bistro.

Well, according to Justin Fleming, the new chef and co-owner of Ciao!, neither Pagelli’s (and Justin worked for two years at the original Pagelli’s in Estero, FL) nor Ciao! was good enough, so he decided to move to the Tampa Bay area to start over and re-create Ciao! as a real, sit-down Italian restaurant that utilizes fresh ingredients and has dishes for men, and women, with family-friendly dishes and pricing.

“A lot of the new menu (which was just unveiled to the public this week) is designed with women in mind,” says Justin, who isn’t afraid to speak his mind on the subject of Ciao!’s food. “Women usually make the decision about where to eat, so we always want to make sure the ladies are happy.”

Ciao!, which still hosts the Wesley Chapel Rotary Club at noon for lunch every Wednesday, is open for lunch and dinner every day and Justin promises that the delicious new flavors our office sampled at an exclusive preview of the new menu will be representative of his passion for great food.

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“I really haven’t been happy with either the Pagelli’s menu or the previous menu for Ciao!,” Justin says. “But, I figure is good place to start is with homemade pasta, fresh seafood and the freshest ingredients for my homemade sauces.”

And, he’s right. We started with a sample of Justin’s new lobster bisque and a chicken caprese salad, which adds grilled chicken to the usual fresh mozzarella and tomato slices. We also enjoyed the new-and-improved margherita pizza, which is brick-oven-baked and excellent, and the homemade gnocchi quattro formaggio appetizer, which featured addictively perfect potato pasta pockets topped with a creamy sauce of fontina, gorgonzola, parmesan and romano cheeses.

Speaking of the pasta, my mezzo giorno sausage rigatoni, which is loaded with housemade sausage, homemade rigatoni, cream, Romano cheese, tomato and sweet peas, although I also loved the improved Ciao! pork chop, which is basted with balsamic barbecue and served over roasted Yukon gold spears with caramelized onions, the scallops with wild mushrooms and sherry cream and the gorgonzola angus filet tenderloin, all better than anything previously served at Ciao!

Although it’s technically not a dish at Ciao! yet, we also really enjoyed a plate that featured two delicious homemade pork, veal and beef meatballs, a hefty serving of spaghetti and one breast of chicken parmigiana. One woman who had just polished off a plate of just the spaghetti and meatballs proclaimed the meatballs as “the best in town” and it was hard to argue with her.

Justin, who spent eight years at a fine dining restaurant in Ann Arbor, MI, before relocating to Florida, also says he really hopes to build Ciao!’s lunchtime business, with an array of tasty new sandwiches, all served with either waffle fries or potato wedges. The only one we got to sample was the chicken pesto pannini with flame-grilled chicken, pesto, roasted peppers and provolone cheese. Other options include a crab cake sandwich, chicken salad, a half-lb. angus burger and a chicken parm sandwich on French bread.

Ciao also now features homemade desserts and the chocolate chip and pistachio cannolis were definitely yummy. And, Ciao! still features a super-premium bar, a nice kids menu, large private party room, catering and more. Check it out and let me and Justin (who says he wants your feedback) know what you think.

Ciao! Italian Bistro is located at 2001 Piazza Ave. in the Shops at Wiregrass. For reservations (not required) and more info, call 907-2200 or visit

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