Named after Bologna-born owner/chef Contstantine (Tino) De Lucia, this makeshift restaurant and urban wine garden is a casual spot for rustic, old-world pizzas and a selection of low-priced wines you don’t find every day.
They are both nice fits for the South Miami Avenue scene — something a little less buttoned up than the surrounding suits.
“Bringing this concept to Brickell has been a long-term goal of mine,” Constantine DeLucia told me. “I wanted to bring a unique and never-seen-before spot … where all can gather for a date or simple glass of wine with friends.”
Here brick walls, dozens of melted candlesticks on the bar and a concrete “garden” sandwiched between buildings with mismatched chairs combine to create a hipster vibe. Add to that some college-crowd pricing and you’ve got what should be a winner.
Sadly, however, Tino’s is erratic. There are two entrances on some nights and a sidewalk chalkboard with tapas and specials that the waitress has no idea about. I asked how the advertised clams were prepared, and she ventured to guess that they were sold individually “just like oysters.” Well, not exactly.
Since August, I’d also heard a lot about a peculiar multi-culti addition of pork and chicken gyoza with truffle sauce to the pizza menu and looked forward to seeing how that was going to work. I needn’t have worried. Those lovely little Japanese dumplings were not only not on the menu, even the “secret menu” the PR folks insisted existed, but the waitstaff — on three separate visits — did not know what a gyoza was or even how to pronounce the word.
When it comes to pizzas, however, there are lots of delicious, straightforward options.
What we had was mostly excellent, though a bit of salt in the otherwise finely hewn crust would have elevated them. The puffy orbs are baked in a super hot, wood-eating Stefano Ferrara oven, nicknamed “Bertha” for the chef’s great grandmother.
They come out super fast in their gorgeously charred frames with an array of quality toppings. The San Daniela pizza is draped decadently with see-through sheets of prosciutto over a thin lacquer of San Marzano tomato sauce and a silky layer of mozzarella. A veggie version features slivers of white mushrooms, zucchini and nibs of eggplant. The rich tomato sauce is tangy and well-seasoned with a velvety finish.
The standout is a rich truffle blend with fresh black Italian truffles shaved over bubbling-hot cheese.
Some pies might seem soft or wet in the middle, but that is authentic Neapolitan style. You don’t pick this up and eat it by the slice. It’s a knife and fork affair.
While on the subject, don’t expect gloppy stringy cheese and piles of sauce either. The sauce and cheese are swiped in thin even layers.
Weirdly, though, some pizzas get topped with an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach, making the eating a bit of a mission.
The puffy, golden discs of focaccia that make appearances as plates for seafood or alongside salads are sprinkled with just enough salt and loads of fresh rosemary.
On the tapas menu we found a disconcerting melanzana eggplant parm, with a too-sweet sauce over odd little cubes of eggplant with more seeds and skin than flesh. But tiny clams with dimes of zingy chorizo in a rich, herby broth were enchanting. A shrimp scampi featured perky crustaceans but a blah garlic sauce.
I take my salads seriously, and here I was a bit put out. What is billed as a $13 ensalate mista was a bowl of unforgivably flaccid leaves, including slimy bits of red oak leaves, dumped from a cello bag and overdressed in a balsamic dressing. Another night we sampled the rucola salad with similarly wilted greens and unambitious cherry tomatoes. Don’t expect farm-fresh produce here.
A Barbie townhouse of a wine menu includes more than 50 bottles under $100 and more than half served by the glass. This does mean you will find glasses served oxidized and some not available. Though prices are pretty cheap, starting at $6 a glass, the markup can still be a stiff four times retail on other pours. Good craft beers and ales make a turn as well.
Desserts include the requisite Nutella-smeared crust dotted with some tired slices of strawberries and bananas. Other New York specialties like cheesecake and Caprese cake are sent from Tino’s cousin’s bakery.
Expect new menu items to roll out soon, including an all-you-can-eat lobster special for $80, and hopefully staffers who will know what they are.
Tino’s offers a trampoline of ups and downs with a service staff that is pleasant but woefully untrained and unknowledgeable. Still, the cute place serves a purpose for those who want to experience what a mostly good sit-down pizza is all about. The only thing is there are suddenly better pies and prices just steps away.
Follow Victoria Pesce Elliott on Twitter @VictoriaPesceE
Miami Herald critics dine anonymously at the newspaper’s expense.
If You Go
Address: 1040 South Miami Ave., Miami
Rating: ☆ ☆ 1/2 stars (Good)
Contact: 786-703-7817; Facebook.com/tinosbrickell
Hours: Noon-midnight daily. Wednesdays until 3 a.m. Friday and Sunday until 5 a.m.
Prices: Tapas $10-$18, pizzas $11- $20, All-you-can-eat lobster $79.99, desserts $11.
FYI: Wine and beer only; self-park at street meters or rear entrance, 31 SW 11th St.; reservations not required; corkage $15/bottle
What The Stars Mean: 1 (Poor) 1.5 (Fair) 2 (OK) 2.5 (Good) 3 (Very Good) 3.5 (Excellent) 4 (Exceptional)