Authenticity Meets Modern at New Southern Italian Eatery
By Cheryl Mandell
Locals and tourists searching for authentic pasta dishes and sensational brick oven pizza have another reason to visit University Village in Estero now that San Matteo Italian Restaurant & Bar is open for business.
New York City restaurateurs Fabio Casella, Giuseppe Manco, and Manco’s wife Eleonora Cavacchi opened San Matteo in early December 2023. The original San Matteo was founded in 2010 by Casella and his brother Ciro, with two popular locations in Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
Chef Manco has been in the pizza industry for nearly 25 years, beginning in his family’s restaurant in Naples, Italy. During his extensive culinary career, Manco has received awards for Best Neapolitan Pizza and Best Roman-style Pizza, as well as rave reviews from New York Magazine, The New York Times and Forbes.
Manco met Cavacchi, who is from Abruzzo, while they were both serving in the Italian army. Soon after, the pair moved to Rome and worked in the restaurant industry. Eventually, they decided to begin a new chapter in America.
Manco and Cavacchi previously owned Mani in Pasta in Manhattan’s East Village before relocating to southwest Florida during the COVID-19 pandemic – first to Naples and then to Estero, where Manco became the pizza chef at Aldo’s Italian Table & Bar, which is now San Matteo.
In 2023, Fabio Casella traveled to southwest Florida to visit his longtime friend Manco. Casella was immediately drawn to Estero and soon partnered with the couple to open Southwest Florida’s first location of San Matteo Italian Restaurant & Bar.
This modern, yet inviting, Estero eatery offers a harmonious blend of contemporary and authentic southern Italian cuisine that remains faithful to the true Neapolitan pizza. The name San Matteo means Saint Matthew, the patron saint of Salerno in southern Italy.
Choose from the open-concept indoor table seating, bar area or expansive outdoor patio that offers year-around al fresco dining, with a lovely view of the University Village fountain.
In addition to traditional and gourmet pizzas, San Matteo’s menu includes a generous offering of appetizers, salads and authentic pastas, such as the Roman favorite Bucatini Cacio e Pepe and Linguine Alle Vongole, a classic seafood dish from Campania.
“The Paccheri Alla Genovese is amazing. It is typical of Naples, and I am obsessed,” said Cavacchi, who serves as general manager. “It cooks overnight, and the large pasta holds all of the meat inside. It is my favorite.”
Popular entrees like Fettuccine Alfredo and Veal Marsala can be found on the menu under “Italian American Favorites,” and there is a select offering of premium, artisanal, dry-aged meats by Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors.
The dessert menu includes Italian classics such as Panna Cotta, Cannoli and Delizia al Limone, a mini sponge cake filled and coated with lemon custard that will transport you straight to the Amalfi Coast.
San Matteo boasts an ample selection of imported and domestic wine, beer and signature cocktails like the Campari Cosmo and Smoked Manhattan.
The restaurant is open Tuesday through Sunday from 4 to 10 p.m. with happy hour drink and food specials until 5:30 p.m. every day.
Figliata – One pound of creamy burrata stuffed with pearl mozzarella, served over a bed of prosciutto di parma, pomodorini (cherry tomatoes) and Castelvetrano olives, and greens.
Montanara Di Cetara – This starter involves three different cooking processes – first frying the dough with Italian sunflower oil, topping the Montanara before putting it in the conventional oven, and finishing it off in the brick oven. The result is a light and airy, yet crispy, slice of heaven — “something you will not find anywhere (else) around here,” said Manco. It’s topped with Datterini tomatoes, burrata and Armatore Cetara anchovies.
San Matteo Estero — This pizze bianche, or white pizza, is given the restaurant’s namesake for a reason: it is a classic pizza on the narrow streets of Rome. This gourmet variation consists of truffle cream, Porcini mushrooms and speck (Italian smoked ham).
Tuna Tataki — Meticulously and lightly pan-seared tuna, marinated and sesame-crusted for a unique and delicious Asian-meets-Italian fusion. Served over farro and asparagus. A satisfying main course and one of Chef Manco’s favorite dishes to make.
Paccheri Alla Genovese —Large, smooth tube pasta, originating from Campania paired with slow-cooked veal and onion ragu, parmigiano and basil. The veal and onion ragu takes 16 hours to cook, resulting in an exquisitely tender and savory Neapolitan dish.
Pistachio Panettone Tiramisu — We were lucky enough to taste a dessert that is not on the menu, but will likely be featured soon after garnering praise during its debut on New Year’s Eve. Traditional Italian panettone (sweet bread) is topped with creamy mascarpone custard, whipped cream and cocoa powder for a delicious denouement.
19810 Village Center Drive, Fort Myers, FL 33913