Tampa Bay’s Best Dish: Lump Crab Linguini
Green Lemon co-owner Matt Lanza picks the lump crab linguini from Café Paradiso
How did you get involved in the restaurant world?
My father started in New York City in the 80s and he was really successful. He had about 15 different restaurants while I was growing up. The first time I started working in the restaurant, I was 8 and he had me design this kids section of the restaurant. It was for kids and adults with kids and I was the host. I moved up to busboy at 13. I loved it, I didn’t think of it as work.
My dad ended up moving from NYC to here and opened this restaurant called Ciccio and Tony’s. We used to visit him for the summer and I ended up moving down here when I was 17, the middle of my junior year of high school, and started working for him full time. I went to college but freshmen year decided I didn’t want to do it anymore so I came back and opened a restaurant in St. Pete called Ciccio’s California. It ended up not going so well. He ended up firing me when I was 21 and it was an eye-opening experience. It was good, though. It really motivated me to get my stuff together.
How did you get involved with Green Lemon?
I ended up opening my own insurance company after getting fired by my dad and five years later I came back and went to Lime (now Green Lemon) and saw that it wasn’t doing well. My dad said they were thinking about closing it down because it was losing money. I went in there and I started thinking that we could turn this place around. About a year later we got it to break even. My dad gave me a deal where I bought majority ownership and really started to take the restaurant to the next level. We changed the menu, changed the décor; it ended up being a two-year project. We’re just now finishing the renovations. Now it’s our highest producing restaurant and it really brought our family together.
If you weren’t in the restaurant world, what do you think you’d be doing?
I have a commercial cleaning company and I still have businesses outside the restaurant. I’ve always enjoyed just being in business. I love being in the game, the business game. You learn so much. I never want to be stuck in an office. That’s the only thing I won’t do.
When was the first time you came to Café Paradiso?
It was about 12 years ago. We scouted the place before we opened our Italian restaurant in South Tampa. This and Prima Donnas were the best Italian restaurant in the area and we used to come here before we opened our own place. It’s the only place I go for Italian. It’s funny, when we met and we were competition but we ended up becoming good friends. Paolo, the owner, is a good guy. He runs a tight ship. He’s the type of owner that always runs the floor, you’ll always see him waiting and bussing the tables. I really respect that. This is a real restaurateur.
Why do you like this dish so much?
It’s light but it has the flavor. He always cooks his pasta al dente and uses fresh crab meat. I don’t like heavy dishes and after I eat this dish I feel fine.
Do you have a guilty food pleasure?
Pasta. I can’t stay away from it, seriously.
What’s the best dish you can make?
I’d say our guacamole. I actually made the guacamole that’s on our menu.
Who’s your favorite celebrity chef?
Robert Irvine. Restaurant Impossible is the one food show I will watch.
Café Paradiso is located at 4205 S. MacDill Ave., Tampa, FL 33611. For more information, call (813) 835-6622.