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New Ciccio-backed, fast-casual Italian concept is off to a prime start

Veronica Brezina

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The entrance of Jay and Luigi. Photo: Veronica Brezina.

The teams behind the Ciccio Restaurant Group and Forbici Modern Italian have opened a new fast-casual restaurant concept in St. Petersburg. 

The Vitale Bros. mural on the side of  the Jay and Luigi restaurant. Photo: Veronica Brezina

Jason Brunetti, co-founder of the Forbici Modern Italian restaurant in Tampa’s Hyde Park Village and an owner of multiple pizzerias in New York, partnered with the Ciccio Restaurant Group (CRG) to open the fast-casual Italian restaurant Jay and Luigi at 3201 4th St. North.

CRG is a well-known local hospitality group that is the parent company of Daily Eats, Green Lemon, the Fresh Kitchen brand and concepts such as Water and Flour and Luv Child. It also created The Fly Food Hall in St. Petersburg, which houses Taco Dirty, Sweet Soul and Better Byrd.  

Brunetti has a deep relationship with CRG and co-founder James “Jimmy” Lanza, as he helped open the original Taco Dirty location in South Tampa, and worked with the company on other concepts. 

“We made a fast-casual, quick-serve restaurant concept that no one else is doing here,” Brunetti said about Jay and Luigi. “You have a different experience on Central Avenue with a mix of food and cultures, which is very nice – it’s a melting pot, but Jimmy and I felt there was a small void on 4th Street in this pocket we are in.” 

He listed off the surrounding neighborhoods, from Snell Isle to Shore Acres, as the target market. 

The Jay and Luigi brand was named after Brunetti and Luis “Luigi” Flores, a longtime executive chef of CRG. 

“When we talk about all the CRG concepts, Luis has created every single menu item in the entire corporation. Luis and I have been working together for a while and when he was the chef at Chico and Tony’s [in Tampa], I used to make him create these crazy dishes that weren’t on the menu and people started to order the dishes saying, ‘I’ll have the Jay pasta,'” Brunetti said, explaining how customers wanted the dishes made “Jay’s way.”

Before opening Jay and Luigi, Burnetti and the team traveled for six months to New York and California for research and development. 

Jay and Luigi’s standout dishes include its fermented yeast Roman and Neapolitan pizzas, pasta and cauliflower rice bowls. The Roman-style pizza is square and doughier compared to a Neapolitan pizza, which is a thin-crust pie. 

The queen Margherita pizza from Jay and Luigi. The ingredients include tomato, house-made mozzarella, grana Padano and basil. Photo provided.

“We make everything we possibly can. Whatever we can’t make ourselves, we’ll have it made for us,” Brunetti said about using fresh and house-made sauces, pasta and yeast, which takes three days for the fermentation process. 

Brunetti’s favorite dishes: the cacio e pepe casarecce, which is a spaghetti-based dish with panko, cracked pepper and grana Padano. When it comes to the pies, his go-to dish is the queen Margherita pizza. He says every night he eats the Jay’s Caesar salad, which is made with dried black cherries, Marcona almonds, house-made croutons and dressed with a cured egg yolk crumble, alongside a Milanese chicken. 

Forbici’s former executive chef  Javier Mondragon is one of the chefs at Jay and Luigi.

Jay and Luigi’s interior design includes a tiled wall, black and white checkerboard tiles, yellow bar stools, hand-stitched diamond patterns on the bench chairs and filament bulbs that give off amber-colored hues of light. Photo provided.

Brunetti said that the food comes out very quickly and the tables have QR codes, allowing people to order directly from their phone and also pay their tab – Jay and Luigi is a cashless establishment.  

The restaurant, formerly the site of Burger 21, is open Tuesday through Sunday. 

A ribbon-cutting celebration is in the planning stages for Jay and Luigi, which held a soft opening in late January. 

The Jay and Luigi team currently consists of 20 employees; however, Brunetti said he is hiring for more front-of-house positions and said he expects additional Jay and Luigi locations to open in Tampa Bay. 

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