Italian eatery in Village, now with outdoor seating and private room, continues to grow as its popularity continues to soar
By Jane Bartnett
Walk through the doors of Flavio’s Brick Oven & Bar and suddenly the outside world fades away. The aromas of fine Italian cooking, the warm welcoming atmosphere, and a full house of happy customers on most nights signal that at this place, no one’s a stranger.
Flavio Cristofoli himself is typically at the front of the house to greet his guests. In the kitchen, his brother Daniele runs the show.
“He’s in charge of the kitchen, I take care of everything out here,” Flavio Cristofoli said while in the dining area where he so masterfully works the crowd.
It’s indeed a family affair at this classic Italian eatery that has been a favorite of locals and Siesta Key visitors for 31 years.
“For the first 22 years — that’s from 1991 on — we were called Bella Roma. In 2013, we decided to change the name to Flavio’s. We wanted to make it our own,” said the restaurateur.
The name changed but the family that makes the magic happen every night remained the same. “My mother also cooks,” Cristofoli said. “Each morning she comes in and makes our gnocchi. It’s her specialty. She’s really a great cook.”
With a big smile he pauses to say “She’s 80 now, so she takes it a little easy. She makes the gnocchi and then goes home.”
Cristofoli’s wife, Harva, also plays a starring role in creating the Flavio’s specialty desserts.
“She’s the baker and makes the best key lime pie, coconut pie, and chocolate mousse. It’s just delicious,” Cristofoli said.
The couple met when Cristofoli, who began cooking when he was 14, came to Sarasota on a vacation. They fell in love and he decided to stay.
“Harva grew up in Florida with orange groves,” Cristofoli said of his wife, noting that they came from two very different worlds. “I was from Turin in northern Italy, the headquarters of Fiat cars. I loved it here and soon I found work as the chef of Osteria in St. Armands Circle.”
When he and his wife learned that there was an opportunity to take over Bella Roma on Siesta Key, Cristofoli contacted his mother and brother and told them about the small Italian restaurant. They decided to move to Sarasota so that they could work together and to build their own Italian restaurant.
In Turino, the family had previously owned a bar and restaurant.
“We’ve all been in the business,” he said, adding that his grandfather had been a chef on a cruise ship.
In recent years, Flavio’s on Siesta has flourished and grown in terms of both the menu and the space.
“Our cuisine is regional — I would call it a little bit of all regions,” hristofoli said. “We have some Sicilian, some Naples dishes, some from Venice, some from my region of Turino.
“Our best dish is the papardelle pasta with short ribs. Also, the lobster and scallops with our unique Fra diavalo sauce is excellent.”
The Flavio’s pizzas made in their own brick ovens is also a customer favorite.
An expansion began in 2013. The current bar area had been a restaurant called Cafe Continento. That year, it became a part of Flavio’s, allowing the restaurant to create a larger footprint.
“Having the bar as it is now was important,” said Cristofoli. “We were growing and we want to welcome our customers. The bar is very popular.”
In 2016, Flavio’s Two opened at the site of the former Beulah restaurant in downtown Sarasota and in 2020 it became Flavio’s on Main.
Flavio’s on Siesta Key expanded again in 2018 and took over the space that had been owned by a jeweler that was adjacent to the restaurant.
Then, to better accommodate diners during the pandemic, Flavio’s in 2020 set up an outdoor tent that allowed the business to offer outdoor seating. It was an instant success among customers who enjoyed the outdoor dining.
In 2021, the former Subway sandwich store gave way to Flavio’s temperature-controlled wine room that is filled with California, French and Italian wines. “Of course, we have more Italian wines,” said Cristofoli, “but they are all excellent.”
Flavio’s newest improvement that Cristofoli expects will be very well received is the restaurant’s new private dining room. The space offers seating for up to 60 people.
“It’s a perfect place for a family get-together,” he said. “We expect it will be good for people who want to have a nice party for a special occasion or for a business group or a small wedding.”
And now, outdoor dining is a permanent option for diners.
“We’ve added new permanent, raised outdoor seating that is shaded and very comfortable,” Cristofoli said. “Guests can now enjoy a Siesta evening breeze and be here with us at Flavio’s.”
Open seven days a week, Flavio’s, located at 5239 Ocean Blvd., is open only for dinner. Reservations for inside and outside dining, as well as for the private dining room, are available by calling (941) 349-0995 at flaviosbrickovenandbar.com.