In the late 19th century, about a million Italians left their homes in Europe to immigrate to Brazil. With them, they brought their language, culture and their delicious sauces, pastas and, of course, pizza. A century later, Italian and Brazilian cuisines have mixed and mingled, resulting in a special culinary experience – one that you can find at Braccia Pizzeria & Ristorante in Winter Park.
The main draw to Braccia is the pizza, ranging from sweet and cheesy to savory and salty. For Brazilian flavors, try the Portuguese pie ($13.90), topped with pomodoro sauce, mozzarella, turkey, ham, onions, green olives, oregano and hard-boiled eggs. That’s right, eggs on pizza, a deliciously unexpected flavor combination with the counterbalance of the crisp onions and salty ham all on top of a thin, crispy crust.
It should be noted that all of Braccia’s pizzas sport extremely fine and crispy crust, a choice that co-owners Hugo Passos and Eduardo Nobre along with Chef Bartolomeu Lins Jr., who moved from Brazil to America only seven months ago, made when they decided to open their restaurant in the trendy Park Avenue area of Winter Park. Because most people associate traditional Italian dishes with that heavy feeling you get in your gut after scarfing down, Braccia’s owners decided to go with a thin, cracker-like crust to lighten up the meal.
This drive to be different shows up not only on Braccia’s menu but in the decorum, which features dome, bamboo light fixtures from Brazil; colorful art from Brazilian artists on the walls; and quirky table dressings. Diners will notice a Styrofoam cup hanging off the edge of their table as well as a clear box filled with plastic gloves on top. These rather odd table additions are to be used conjointly, the first for keeping your hands clean while enjoying a slice and the second for easily disposing of them.
This peculiarity may come from a cultural dissonance between Americans and Brazilians. In Brazil, people eat their pizza with a fork and knife compared to most Americans’ hands-on approach. Since Braccia’s thin-crust pizzas crumble if you try to cut them with a knife, the owners wanted to make sure fork-and-knife pizza eaters had another option. Even if you’re a more hands-on pizza eater, those gloves do come in handy with the more messy pizzas such as the Serenata de Amor ($12.90), which is topped with gooey, warm chocolate.
For a less messy but still sweet pizza, the Brie with Apricot pie ($21.90) is just the right amount of sweet and cheesy. It’s topped with pomodoro sauce, mozzarella and brie cheese with apricot jam.
Beyond Braccia’s pizza offerings, there are some other appetizing menu options including the Braccia Shirmp ($14.50) appetizer that comes with several torched shrimp sitting in house-made pesto sauce with Parmesan cheese for a succulent and herbal-tasting starter. More adventurous diners will be drawn to the Schiavo Octopus appetizer ($14.50). Swimming in a warm pool of olive oil, the octopus is charred and chewy and comes along with baby potatoes, garlic and rosemary. Pasta dishes like the Spaghetti with Mushrooms ($12.90) or Fettuccine Puttanesca ($12.90) can be made with gluten-free pasta if requested.
To accompany your meal, Braccia offers various beers and wines, many of which you won’t be able to find anywhere else near Park Avenue. Freshly squeezed juices are also on the menu with selections beyond your typical orange and lemonade, including Pineapple with Mint or Strawberry, which has a sweetly fresh taste and the consistency of a milk shake.
Braccia’s freshly squeezed juices are just one of many things made in-house. “We prefer to do the fresh,” Passos says. The restaurant cooks also like to put in the time needed for making their handmade pomodoro sauce. “We get the tomatoes. Cook ’em,” Passos says. “Do the hard way, you know? Nobody want to do that.”
This homemade element extends to the Salmon with Brie ($24.90) entree that comes with grilled salmon in a reduction of tomatoes and crispy capers accompanied with made-from-scratch brie ravioli with pepper jelly, a sweet offset to the salty capers.
For dessert, there are sweet pizzas like the Banana with Cinnamon ($10.90), but don’t overlook other meal-ending options like the Braccia Special ($8.90), a handmade soft cheese ice cream with guava syrup and chestnut that is rich and creamy; or the Homemade Churros ($6.90) with a dulce de leche dipping sauce. Both dishes beg to be paired with a shot of espresso ($2.50).
Overall, don’t let the pizzeria tag fool you. Braccia Pizzeria & Ristorante has so much more to offer than your traditional pepperoni and cheese slices. This Brazilian take on traditional Italian cuisine is a refreshing choice for a light lunch with a friend or an adventurous culinary night out.