Benedetto's Ristorante Italiano in Land O'Lakes is the duPont Registry's first annual Posh Pick for Delectable Dining.
The family-owned New York Italian restaurant beat out the likes of Eddie V's Prime Seafood, Flemming's Prime Steakhouse and even Armani's at the Grand Hyatt for the readers' pick.
Being prime and grand did not thwart the more than 18,000 votes counted in the Delectable Dining category from selecting one of Pasco County's most renowned dining destinations for the title.
Forty percent of voters (7,230 votes total) chose Benedetto's over the 11 nominees that were notified in early August. The next closest was Shor American Seafood Grill with 5,839 votes.
"I went out on Facebook immediately (for votes)," chef and owner Ben Pumo said. "We also have the Rat Pack Club to help us out — it was a big deal going against places like the Hyatt."
Consisting of more than 12,000 emails, the Rat Pack Club is a email list Pumo and his staff have compiled since the restaurant started serving 14 years ago. Coincidentally, Benedetto's will celebrate its 14th anniversary this week.
In those 14, Pumo included a year where he worked out of the old Whiskey Willy's in Lutz, cooking under the Benedetto’s moniker. He served burgers and wings alongside his veal and pesto sauce.
While Pumo will receive his award on Thursday, Benedetto's is hosting a sort of Throwback Thursday night where its menus from 2001, with pricing from 2001, will be featured as part of the restaurant’s anniversary celebration.
Benedetto's has a host of other incentives and giveaways extending into Saturday, the restaurant's true anniversary date.
Pumo just celebrated his 13-year wedding anniversary with his wife, Elizabeth, and there is a lot happening at Benedetto's. This year, Pumo added a list of signature house wines to the menu. A recent vacation propelled him into some of his most recent culinary endeavors, too.
He tried a wild game platter in Colorado with elk and buffalo and decided to serve them at his restaurant. Just like that, they're now popular offerings; so popular that Pumo is searching for more exotic dishes to conjure for his customers. As Pumo likes to say, it’s a testament to the ability to innovate when you are a "family-owned, chef-run" business.
Pumo took it a step further by serving llama and Vietnamese python, two items he's added to rabbit and boar already on the menu. He said he buys the meat, dreams up the recipe, tries it out on diners, with maybe a tweak here and there, and wham! It's on the menu.
Benedetto's and Pumo are not strangers to duPont, either. The trendy magazine has published two of Pumo's recipes, his Grouper Bianco in 2012 and his Lobster Clam Bake last year.
"I thank my family and staff for being able to put us in the running to win duPont Registry's contest," Pumo said. "We're super excited, and it couldn't come at a better time of the year. It's great to be with Posh of Tampa Bay."
It took a concerted effort from Pumo and his staff to encourage enough diners to go online and vote. Pumo pointed out how easy it might have been for a place like the Hyatt to solicit votes from customers, so he said he was proud of his team's efforts, and of his diners' satisfaction, that propelled Benedetto’s into victory.
Voters commenting on the contest like the user Alarmgeorge said, "We go here at least 1 time a month. The service is awesome. The place is reminiscent of the Sinatra era with real piano entertainment. White table cloths with reasonable pricing. The food is incredible forget the other Italian places this is the real thing.”
Another user named Maxxkruse said, "We drive all the way out there because the food is great, atmosphere is great and the service is also great. We would recommend it to everyone."