You’re among friends at the new Piesanos Stone Fired Pizza

by Tallahassee Table
Gainesville-based Italian chain opens new spot in Tallahassee

Whether here for a date night, gathering with friends or a meal with the family, the new Piesanos Stone Fired Pizza is bound to find a place in your repertoire of favorite Italian restaurants.

Piesanos is officially opening at 11 a.m. Monday, Jan. 22 in its new home in the Governors Crossing II shopping center at the corner of Park Avenue and Blair Stone Road. It’s the plaza with Publix and the former home of Panera, which has moved to Apalachee Parkway.

Piesanos is the 13th new link in a Gainesville-based chain. All the locations are in Florida. Joel Mills, one of the founders and owners, said they hope to open two more locations in Tallahassee.

By now, I’m guessing most of you have heard of the pizzeria. Piesanos invited hundreds of people to attend its Family & Friends soft opening event, which took place on Jan. 19 and 20. It also served as a training session for its employees, a fundraiser for the Big Bend Habitat for Humanity and a chance to introduce their venue to attendees, who have shared their opinions on social media.

It’s hard to judge a restaurant by a Family & Friends night because the owners, managers and staff are all focused on making a good impression. Despite that, a friend and I did indeed find a lot to like at Piesanos, starting with the place itself.

Owners did an excellent job in converting the site from a Panera to a Piesanos. The room is decorated in soft shades of tans and gray. There are rows of comfy booths with plush burgundy seats along with tables and there’s a full bar. Takeout orders are picked up from a room separated from the dining area by an arched wall.

My friend Gail is part Italian, all New Yorker with a love of pizza and a high standard for Italian sauces. She gave Piesanos a thumbs up.

For Family & Friends day, the public could sign up for slots to preview the place. The deal: One appetizer per two guests and either one medium pizza or entree per guest or one large pizza per two guests. All dishes come with garlic rolls. All these items were complimentary. Guests paid for alcoholic drinks and dessert.

For starters, we shared the fried calamari (we asked that hot cherry peppers be left off). We savored the tender bites of squid with a dip in either the marinara or horseradish sauce.

Gail was happy with the marinara. “It’s hard to find a place that has sauce that doesn’t taste like paste or just plain tomatoes in a restaurant,” she said. “This marinara is very well made and seasoned.”

Puffy garlic rolls, served for the table to share, are drizzled with an Italian dressing. The vinegar adds a zing that might be off-putting at first but we decided it was a fun tweak. Still, I’d probably ask for a mix of dry and dressed rolls next time.

Gail and I shared a 12-inch medium meatball pizza with tufts of ricotta and mozzarella and a dusting of parmigiana. The pizza is cooked on a granite slab – not to be confused with coal or wood fired. The crust was tender/crisp and chewy – but just a slight tug.

Piesanos offers more than two dozen specialty pizzas in several sizes – personal, medium, large and giant or a 10-inch cauliflower crust. You can also order a basic cheese pizza in the same sizes and pick your toppings.

For an entree, we shared the chicken Parmesan, baked in a marinara sauce with mozzarella, served over the spaghetti. The classic dish was flavorful but it could have been a little warmer. Having a soft opening gives restaurants a chance to address these types of issues. You can add a house salad, Caesar salad or soup to an entree for $3.99.

Entrees and specialty pastas include lasagna Bolognese, stuffed shells, shrimp scampi and garlic broccoli cappellini. Other items include calzones, flatbread, soup and salad.

We were stuffed by this point but we wanted to try the tiramisu, a good size square for $7.99. It’s rich and creamy but goes down easily after a big meal.

We didn’t order any drinks during our lunchtime visit but 50 percent of alcohol sales on Friday and Saturday will be donated to the Big Bend Habitat for Humanity. Piesanos’ owners will be presenting the check to the nonprofit during a Monday morning celebration and pie (as opposed to ribbon) cutting. If we had paid for our meal, it would have been $66.38. We added a 25 percent tip based on that amount.

Joel was on the premises over the weekend along with managers training their new staff. Mills said they would be in town until they felt sure the restaurant was running smoothly. Service was certainly off to a good start with the new, young staff friendly and helpful.

While Piesanos is a chain, it grew out of a small ma and pa destination for students called Italian Gator Pizza by the Slice, which Joel opened in 2000.

“I started working in pizzerias when I was 17 years old,” he said on Saturday. “I love everything about pizza.”

It shows.

In 2009, Joel joined restaurateurs Michael and Melissa Akey and Laure Young, and they created Piesanos, which is a play on the Italian word “paesanos” for fellow countrymen or compatriots.

In 2014, Jerry and Sabrina Roberts joined the group just as Piesanos was expanding to its third site. All the restaurants are owned by the same group. It’s not a franchise.

“I never thought we’d get this far,” Joel said.

But he intends to keep growing the restaurant. Piesanos is likely to be packed because you know how Tallahassee gets when there’s a new restaurant. But I expect Piesanos will be a top choice even when it’s not the newest place in town.

If you go …

Piesanos is at 101 N. Blair Stone Road; 850-270-3636.

Hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Prices for dinner: Starters: $8.99 to $15.99; soup and salad $4.99 to $13.99; specialty pizzas $10.49 to $30.99; regular cheese pizza $8.49 to $21.99 (extra for toppings); entrees and specialty pizza $12.99 to $18.99.

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