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  • Tara Crutchfield

Calogero’s Pizzeria

In a small tidy kitchen off Highway 17 in Lake Alfred, Calogero “Charlie” Restivo makes the best pizza in Polk County. Over piping hot espressos, Charlie dished about his background, to-die-for dough, and the joy he gets creating a memorable guest experience. 


A thirty-year culinary veteran and first-generation Italian American, Restivo hails from Queens, New York. He grew up in a predominantly Italian neighborhood. “That’s where I started working in pizzerias and delis as a young man,” Restivo said. He worked his way up the food chain, eventually cheffing for upscale restaurants in Manhattan before moving to Florida in 2007. 


Working for Patina Restaurants, Restivo was one of the opening executive chefs at Disney’s Tutto Italia Ristorante and also opened with Via Napoli Ristorante e Pizzeria in EPCOT.


THE BEST PIZZERIA IN POLK  


President’s Day marked one year since Restivo opened his namesake restaurant in Lake Alfred. “I like Lake Alfred,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of potential in this town. I think it could grow.” 


Calogero’s pizza is unique from anything in the area and worth the drive from any corner of the county. “They’re my recipes,” he said of his cuisine. “I learned over the years and traveled to Italy back and forth. I adopted some recipes and made them in my own way.” 


The pizza style is best described as wood-fired Neapolitan-ish. Made with imported tomatoes and 00 flour (double-zero flour), Restivo said, “I refuse to buy something inferior. If you start with good ingredients and a good product, you’re going to end up with a better experience.”



Restivo even sources the water for his dough – no tap touches his pizzas. “I think it makes a difference,” he said. Calogero’s dough contains no added fats, oils, or sugar – just twice-milled flour, water, salt, and yeast.


It’s not only the ingredients but the cooking method that matters too. Calogero’s Pizzeria utilizes an Acunto oven made by one of the oldest manufacturers in Italy. The oven uses no gas, no electricity, just red oak at 800-850 degrees to give the pizzas their signature pillowy, full-bodied crust in about 60 seconds. Restivo had to remove the front wall of the building, dig down to level the floor, and rent a forklift capable of lifting 10,000 lbs. to get the behemoth into place. Why go to all that trouble for pizza? “I want [customers] to experience a wood-fired pizza and Italian products. There’s nothing wrong with other pizzas,” he said, “but we’re different.”


ESPRESSOS AND EXCELLENCE 


“Cooking is always a passion,” Restivo said. “When I come in and see a customer, and I ask, ‘How’s the pizza?’ and they say, ‘Good.’ I think, ‘Oh, okay, what’s wrong? Why just good?’ I want it to be excellent.”  


And excellent it is. A few Haven favorites are his garlic cheese bread made with fresh chopped organic American garlic, the Hot Honey pie, and the pepperoni pizza, with added ricotta. “I do use what they call a cup and char pepperoni,” Restivo said. The fat stays in the cup and doesn’t bleed over the pizza. “When you eat it, it’s like little bursts of flavor.” A pro-tip is to get a pie for there and one (or two) to go. Calogero’s pizza reheats like a dream, giving it new life and a crispier bottom. 


Whether inside the charming dining room to the right of the parking lot or outside on the deck beneath a canopy of trees in sight of the Italian flag billowing in the wind, guests can enjoy a selection of wood-fired pizza, sandwiches, salads, cannoli, gelato, espresso, and more. Calogero’s offers Kimbo Napoli coffee, Italy’s most famous coffee brand. In December, they added beer and wine to their offerings, a compliment to their exceptional fare. 


For pizza patrons unsure of what to try first, Restivo recommends the Queens. Named in honor of his birthplace, the Queens is a meld of Neapolitan and New York pizza made with San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella, Sicilian oregano, and parmesan. His favorite, though, is the Margherita. “I like it because it’s not that cheesy. It’s a little bit more sauce than cheese.” 


“There’s no such thing as bad pizza,” Restivo said. “Pizza is an interpretation of the person making it. So if you like my pizza, this is what I like. This is how I like to do it. This is how I interpret it.” 

 

Photography by Amy Sexson


Calogero’s Pizzeria 
(863) 268-8352
148A W Haines Blvd, Lake Alfred
FB: Calogero’s pizzeria



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