Chef Tony Macaroni previews his upcoming Carrollwood restaurant, opening early next year
The Italian-American scratch kitchen previously operated out of Seminole Heights' American Legion.
By Kyla Fields on Mon, Aug 22, 2022 at 1:45 pm
There’s no deficit of Italian restaurants in Tampa Bay, and that number is only growing with new spots like Bonu Taverna and Ash opening soon on both sides of the bridge. But Chef Tony Macaroni claims that he makes the best Italian fare in Tampa—and that his customers can back him up.
A first generation Italian-American born and raised in Brooklyn, Chef Tony Macaroni’s fresh, hand-pulled mozzarella, decadent pastas and larger than life personality will soon have a brand new home in North Tampa, when his first official restaurant opens soon.
Up until a month ago, Macaroni operated a fast casual Italian eatery out of Seminole Heights’ American Legion—not the most common place for a scratch kitchen. After slinging cannolis and gnocchi out of its tiny kitchen for almost two years, the husband and wife duo opted to leave that location to avoid a sizable rent increase.
Both Tony and his wife and business partner, Tabitha, state that their business was growing at a rate the small veteran’s lounge couldn’t handle. Their last day operating out of the American Legion was July 22, almost a full two years after they first started.
“At the American Legion, our identity was lost. People never really knew we were there, since most locations aren't open to the public,” Tabitha tells Creative Loafing Tampa Bay.
Tony and Tabitha describe their restaurant as a “modern, quick service Italian-American with a fine dining twist,” and they’re currently working tirelessly to get their brick and mortar up and running. Although it will boast all of the same dishes (and more), the new eatery will have a completely different atmosphere than that of any American Legion.
Get ready to see an Italian flag flying next to the Puerto Rican and Dominican Republic flag, because Chef Tony Macaroni & Co.’s first restaurant will open at Tampa Food Park, Carrollwood’s eclectic collection of food trucks at 5226 Gunn Hwy.
Macaroni’s restaurant will act as the park’s anchor restaurant, as all of its other concepts are either food trucks or trailers. The building will be accompanied by a large bistro-like outdoor patio, a beer and wine bar, a stage for entertainment, and ample parking (something that’s a little harder to come by in Seminole Heights.)
The owner of Tampa Food Park is also an investor in Macaroni’s enterprise, as the site is currently under construction in preparation of its flagship brick and mortar. The fast casual restaurant will have a '90s NYC feel, with graffitied walls, an open kitchen and maybe even a celebrity autograph wall. And to keep its northeastern vibe as bona fide as possible, Macaroni has several cousins from New York and New Jersey moving down to Tampa to help him run the restaurant. Like the American Legion, customers will receive a beeper after their order is placed and pick up their own food, as there will be no waitresses to tend to tables.
And even with a brand new restaurant and slightly upgraded menu and atmosphere, Macaroni is adamant that his prices will still remain affordable to all walks of life.
“Some things might increase from 50 cents to $1, but we really want things to be affordable for everyone. We don't want to alienate our current customer base just because we moved,” Chef Tony Macaroni says. “We want people to come dressed up, dressed down, dirty and dusty from the construction site—that's fine with us.”
The entire menu Tony and Tabitha offered at the American Legion will be available at the new restaurant, in addition to a few “fine dining” dishes like branzino, octopus salad, calamari and more. Chef Tony Macaroni’s new Carrollwood restaurant will also offer made-to-order personal pizzas and calzones, an aspect that their previous kitchen simply couldn’t handle.
“I went with the open kitchen concept because I want people to know that we make everything from scratch,” Chef Macaroni states. He goes on to explain his ultra-traditional practices he learned from both his parents and while working overseas in Europe—from hand-pulling mozzarella to spending hours on homemade pasta sauces.
When the new restaurant celebrates its grand opening at the end of this year or in early 2023, its hours will be roughly 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. throughout the week and 11 a.m. to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, as late night entertainment will happen on the outdoor stage every weekend. Initially, the duo tried looking for a restaurant space in Seminole Heights to cater to its loyal patrons, but found it difficult to find an affordable location.
“After we chose Carrollwood for our new location, we found out that a large number of our customer base actually lived out there anyways, so it really worked out,” Tabitha tells CL.
Chef Tony Macaroni & Co. debuted at the Seminole Heights American Legion in the fall of 2020. At first, its 320 square-foot kitchen was supposed to be used for prep and storage for the duo's new food truck—a plan that quickly came to an unfortunate end.
Tony and Tabitha after their final service at the American Legion.
After being scammed out of $9,000 from the person who was supposed to sell them the food truck, Chef Tony and Tabitha didn’t know where to turn next. Instead of using the American Legion as an auxiliary kitchen like originally planned, they dove head first into operating a full, from scratch restaurant out of the tiny space.
For the first year, it was only Tony and Tabitha in the kitchen doing every aspect of prep and service, with Tony’s mom helping for a few hours here or there. The duo were in an undesirable financial situation after losing their startup money, shopping almost every morning just to get through a few days of service.
Loyal customers and their word of mouth—in addition to social media bolstering from local foodie Jennifer Xie—helped Chef Tony Macaroni & Co. become incredibly popular, even with its “hidden gem” status. It wasn’t uncommon to wait up to an hour for their fresh Mediterranean mussels, stacked Italian sandwiches, eggplant parmigiana and macaroni bolognese.
Chef Tony and his wife—self-acclaimed Disney fanatics that actually met on mousemingle.com—moved to Florida in 2007 to be closer to their favorite place. He’s bounced back and forth between the Sunshine State and the Garden State for the last few years, but the opening of his debut restaurant will surely cement his position in the Tampa Bay food scene. In fact, his sheer love and respect for all-things Disney actually inspired him to trademark the entire Chef Tony Macaroni brand like it was a Disney character—the little cartoon macaroni man and all. When you're speaking with him in person, your eyes naturally draw to the large "Chef Tony Macaroni" tattoo on his upper arm.
Tony and Tabitha are also up for their inaugural Best of the Bay award for “Best Italian Restaurant,” so make sure to vote for your favorite Tampa Bay folks, businesses, places, services and more.
LOCAL STORIESNOVEMBER 30, 2021
Rising Stars: Meet Tony Macaroni
Chef Tony has been the private chef of countless celebrities, actors, and musicians.
Chef Tony Macaroni & Co. was developed by Chef Tony Macaroni and his wife, Tabitha. We are family-owned and operated, offering Authentic Italian/American cuisine. Our concept includes small brick and mortars, food trucks, on and off-premises catering, with ideas of franchising in the future.
Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
When the country shut down for Covid-19 my wife and I decided to invest in a food truck. We went into the American Legion Post 111 as the commissary for the food truck. We figured that we would have a menu available for the customers in the lounge of post 111 since the bars were beginning to reopen. We had a beautiful truck that was being custom-built for us… so we thought. The man took our down payment and was in contact with us for the first month and then it became very hard to contact him. He finally told us that he would not be able to produce a truck for us and that he would give us our down payment back. We never heard from him again and we never got our down payment back. We could have given up and walked away, but we chose to make something of it and continue to build our company into something bigger than we had originally planned.
Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
I specialize in Authentic Italian-American scratch cuisines. I am most known for using the best products and making most of our food from scratch. I do not cut corners to make it easier for me, I cook everything to order. I love being in the kitchen cooking and I put love in everything I make. I am proud of my strong Italian heritage. What sets me apart from others is that I came from Italian immigrant parents. My mom was raised on a farm in Cantalupo nel Sannio and my dad was raised in a fisherman’s family in Villa San Giovanni. I was taught to make homemade sauce, pull mozzarella from curd, make macaroni (pasta), make sausage, butcher meats, prepare fish and seafood dishes, and much more the “old school” way they did it in Italy. I get my strong work ethics from my parents as they taught by example. They worked very hard in their restaurant to achieve the American dream. My wife (Tabitha) and I continue to work hard every day to continue to grow our business into our own American dream.
What were you like growing up?
I grew up in Brooklyn, New York. My parents sent me to St. Patrick’s semi-military Academy to keep me off the streets. During the summers I was working in the kitchen at the restaurant my parents owned. When I was not in the kitchen, you could find me skateboarding and breakdancing with my friends. My dad used to take my brother and I on weekend camping trips to go fishing. Every summer my family would take a trip to Walt Disney World. This was where my love for Disney began. I took cooking classes at Freehold Boro High School. After high school, I attended New York Restaurant School in Manhattan to obtain a culinary degree and a BS degree in Hotel Restaurant Management.
Today we’d like to introduce you to Tony Macaroni. Them and their team share their story with us below:
Born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., Chef Tony Macaroni received his start in the culinary field by shadowing his parents in their various Italian restaurants in New York. In his pursuit of taking the culinary world by storm Tony enrolled in the New York Restaurant School in Manhattan. He was able to travel throughout Italy, France and Germany honing his skills and mastering European cuisine. Chef Macaroni has received many accolades throughout his career, he’s been featured in many local magazines from New Jersey to Florida, he’s competed on Network TV cooking shows, and in 2015 he was invited to attend the Annual New Jersey Wine and Food Festival at Crystal Springs Resort, where he dazzled the judges and event-goers with his Award-Winning skirt steak recipe
JULIE BRANAMAN | TUESDAY, JUNE 25, 2013
At age 10, while other kids were riding bikes and playing tag, Tony Macaroni was in the kitchen of his family's Brooklyn home learning the art of making hand-crafted mozzarella.
His father, his instructor, was teaching the finer points of cooking -- a tradition common among Italian men and their sons.
Fast forward 30 years to today and you'll find Executive Chef Macaroni (yes, that is his family name) working and pulling curd into soft shapes of fresh mozzarella at Primi Ristorante Italiano in downtown St Petersburg.
Macaroni and sous chef Kenneth Kopcsik work daily to make every menu item from scratch and use all local fish and produce, in addition to chicken, beef, veal and lamb.
Moving from the Garden State six years ago, Macaroni says he stays in Tampa Bay to take advantage of Clearwater's white sand beaches, Ybor City's lively night-life and Downtown St Pete's fabulous art scene.
83 Degrees Managing Photographer Julie Branaman stepped into Macaroni's kitchen for a step-by-step look at the art of mozzarella making. Watch the photo slideshow as Chef Tony explains how to make the delicate cheese by hand.
Primi Ristorante Italiano
From Our Editors Groupon
With its plates of homemade pasta, sautéed marinated chicken, and seafood dishes lit by streaks of neon and sided with martinis, Primi - under new ownership - evokes the image of both a homey Italian restaurant and a swanky nightclub. That's because executive Chef Tony Macaroni spent years not only mastering the cuisine of his native Italy, but also working in the kitchens of high-class hotels cooking for celebrities such as Evander Holyfield, Scott L. Schwartz, and Bob Newhart. Together with sous-chef and baking specialist Kenneth Kopcsik, Chef Macaroni whips up elegantly plated dishes such as a thin-sliced tenderloin carpaccio, wild-mushroom ravioli in sage butter reduction, and a slowly braised lamb shank served with broccoli and homemade croquette. An extravagant selection of wines from the Americas and Europe complement the flavors of mussels in garlic butter while four-course chef's table events allow guests to experience the luxury of having their own personal chef.
Seminole Heights' American Legion Post 111 now hosts takeout concept run by Chef Tony Macaroni
And he's got a food truck on the way
By Jenna Rimensnyder
Food & Drink Editor Creative Loafing Oct. 23, 2020 9AM
This year, American Legion Seminole Post 111 snagged the Best of the Bay critic’s pick award for “Best Unlikely Venue” when it comes to attracting an eclectic crowd to the bar and hosting live musical performances. Staying true to its title, the Post is now home to a gastropub run by Chef Tony Macaroni.
With a personality as big as his name, Chef Tony took over the kitchen last month and has been slinging Italian American eats alongside bar food classics.
CL linked with Chef Tony Macaroni over the phone to get the details on his culinary endeavors in Tampa Bay.
“We are doing 5-star cooking in a little place,” the chef said while one speakerphone while his hands are busy prepping fresh gnocchi for the day’s service.
When he’s not in American Legion’s kitchen, he’s doing the shopping for the week at local grocery stores, plotting his next business venture and competing in cooking competitions around the country.
“This is a scratch kitchen,” he says proudly. From mozzarella to pasta, Tony Macaroni says he’s one of the only chefs in Tampa Bay still cooking the old school way and not cutting corners when it comes to quality and technique (although, truth be told, Seminole Heights is home to many chefs cooking with integrity).
The gastropub’s menu consists of breakfast sandwiches (served all day) ranging from $2.50-$4. Appetizers consist of bar favorites like french fries, onion rings, fried mozzarella, chicken wings and fried chicken strips. If you’re going the slightly elevated route, opt for fried shrimp and french fries of fried calamari. There are also a handful of pasta options like chicken parmigiana, shrimp penne vodka, fettuccine Alfredo as well as spaghetti and meatballs. If your diet needs a little something green, there are a few salad options to choose from. Diners can also grab heroes served by the half or whole, sandos like BLTs and turkey club or a personal pizza. By the way, the dessert lineup includes cannolis, deep-fried Oreos and chocolate cate.
These are your ordering options: order on-site and wait in the Legion’s lounge with a cocktail or brew with a pager for Chef Tony to prepare your dish, call in for pickup, or have food delivered through GrubHub or UberEats. All meals are for takeout service only,
Chef Tony Macaroni is working in the American Legion Seminole Post 111 kitchen—located at 6918 N. Florida Ave. in Seminole Heights—11 a.m.-10 p.m. seven days a week.
As if the chef isn’t busy enough, he is launching a food truck, Chef Tony Macaroni and Co., next month serving up authentic American-Italian cuisine. That means pasta, fried calzones, cannolis and whatever else he can whip up with limited space and unlimited imagination.
“It’s going to be an old school Italian restaurant on wheels," he said.