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11 JAN

Maintaining Pusateri’s Traditional Chicago-style Menu in Stuart

How an authentic thin crust pizza, Italian beef sandwich, and Chicago-style hot dog restaurant still attracts loyal customers from all over Florida.

By Baron Christopher Hanson

Be they from Palm Beach Gardens or Vero Beach, Delray Beach or the Ocala National Forest – and all points in between – patrons and families from all over the Sunshine State continue to flock into downtown Stuart for the taste of Pusateri’s nearly two-decades-old menu.

What’s Pusateri’s secret? Authentic Chicago-style cuisine made fresh daily, using specific recipes and ingredients delivered directly from the Windy City – and a menu that will never change.

Even Pusateri’s classic marinara sauce is made from scratch, as are their fresh thin crust pizza and cauliflower doughs. Authentic sausage, au jus-soaked beef, hot or mild Giardiniera, and even Pusateri’s rare-to-find neon green relish and steamed poppy seed buns are all sourced directly from Chicagoland.

For 18 years, Martin County residents –– especially its bustling medical, first responder, and legal communities –– have relished having Pusateri’s renowned pizza, sandwiches, and dogs served up Chicago-style right in their own backyard.

Chicago native Jeff Lichtenstein, owner and broker of ECHO Fine Properties, along with his father Cary, having been coming up to Pusateri’s Pizza in Stuart for years, partly to show off their fervent Chicago Bulls and White Sox team loyalties, yet mainly to savor Pusateri’s closely-guarded, authentic Windy City pizza, meat sandwich, and hot dog recipes.

Located directly across from Stuart’s Memorial Park and down the street from the courthouse and Cleveland Clinic, Pusateri’s has overcome staffing issues rather creatively to open seven days a week. Pusateri’s is now open from 11:30 AM to 9:00 PM six days a week, and from 1 PM to 8 PM on Sundays.

In the spring of 2021, nearly forced to close due to COVID lockdowns, the popular restaurant was bought by Miami native Tom Bean, a long time resident of Sewall’s Point and Sailfish Point. Mr. Bean is a private jet pilot and yachtsman, and a graduate of the Maine Maritime Academy.

Mr. Bean, who now flies the Challenger 604 aircraft for clients all over the world, has four children who each grew up in Stuart. His youngest attends Jensen Beach High School. His son holds a masters degree from Boston College. His eldest daughter is studying abroad in Athens, Greece via Boston College, and another daughter is at the Parsons School of Design in Paris, France.

Since he cannot gift his piloting licenses or skills to his children, Mr. Bean decided to name his pizza company “COTACATA, LLC” after them: Connor, Tabitha, Cassidy, and Tatum.

The secret to finding Pusateri’s longtime mauve-colored facade is to use your GPS to arrive at 221 S.E. Ocean Boulevard in Stuart using zip code 34994. While you’re at it, take note of the restaurant’s 4.6 out of five-star rating on Google, including over 625 positive reviews. Wow!

When you walk in the front door, the busy to-go area, kitchen, hot dog station, old school sauce and dough mixers, and signature smell of thin crust pizza ovens welcome you to your left, with an intimate dining area to your right.

The central point of the restaurant is a large map of Chicago suburbs and thoroughfares, where hundreds of Pusateri’s patrons have pressed colored pins into the various neighborhoods they’ve lived in. “It’s heartwarming to see former Chicagoans tracing their roots, even meeting up with other patrons who lived in the same neighborhoods, or even down the street from each others families,” Bean says.

A long hallway adorned with Chicago memorabilia and sports legendry leads you past the kitchen and out onto a large open-air covered patio. Throughout the restaurant, gifted Chicago-themed license plates from all over America hang along the ceiling.

Although most patrons speak fondly of their former lives and sports teams back in the Windy City, no one here misses the cold or the snow. The most common phrase managers and employees hear from customers everyday is: “This is the only Chicago-style restaurant and menu in South Florida that truly reminds me of home.”

Pusateri’s new seven-day schedule has not only expanded and improved business, being open everyday has also allowed eager employees to log more hours and earn additional tips all week long, making Pusateri’s a great local place for people of all ages to work. The employment culture is clean-cut and family-oriented, which local parents, teachers and professionals appreciate.

What’s more, since Sailfish Point’s club dining is closed on Mondays, many Hutchinson Island and Sewall’s Point residents make a beeline to Pusateri’s early in the week for casual pizza, sandwiches, pasta dishes, and Chicago-style dogs for the entire family.

New customers often confuse the idea of Chicago-style with deep-dish Sicilian pizza, which is actually “more Detroit” –– heavy, doughy, and messy to eat. Not true!

Authentic Chicago-style pizza crust is thin, distinctly crispy, a little salty, and more elegant to eat. Pusateri’s signature red sauce is tangy and distinctive, and a closely guarded secret. Fresh toppings are generous and extend all the way to the edge of each pizza, with slices cut into small squares instead of large pie slices, which is better for parties and family-style dining.

Legend has it that back in the day, Chicago tavern and pub owners would offer these small square slices of salty thin crust pizza as a snack to patrons just getting off first, second, or third shift jobs, to induce them to drink more beer. Apparently it still works today, since the beers are served ice cold in frozen mugs all year long.

Personal thin crust pizzas start at $7, and range from $11 to $21 for small, medium, and large pizzas. Gourmet pizzas range from $14 to $29, pending size and toppings, with Pusateri’s Meat Lovers, Very Veggie, and The John Hancock as favorites. Chicago-style gluten-free and cauliflower crust pizzas are also extremely popular these days, ranging between $12 and $16.

Hot beef and sausage sandwiches range from $7 to $10, and are prepared two ways: Grilled and drizzled with meat au jus, or with house-made red marinara sauce. You can add provolone cheese, onions, and hot or mild Giardiniera peppers for a few extra bucks, which we did. Delish!

The same goes for their Italian roast beef sandwiches on authentic Chicago rolls and dunked in oregano and garlic au jus. Margaret made us their famous sausage and beef combo sandwich “all the way” and my wife and I were flabbergasted. You can also order anything bun-less, even hot dogs, or as a lettuce wrap.

No doubt the calling card at Pusateri’s, be they atop their pizzas or inside their hot sandwiches, is their authentic Italian sausage, beef, and hot or mild pickled peppers –– all shipped in from Chicago. You can even take home a jar of their signature Giardiniera for $7.

Their classic Vienna Beef hot dogs are served on steamed poppy seed buns, topped with yellow mustard, neon green relish, chopped raw onions, two tomato wedges, a dill pickle spear, two sport peppers, a dash of celery salt –– and no ketchup!

If you like your dogs “all the way” and teeming with authentic toppings, their $4 Chicago-style hot dogs eat like a meal. I tried one (OK, two) for the first time in my life. As an eastern seaboard native, I’ve never tasted anything “Chicago-style” before.

According to Mr. Lichtenstein, “as famed Chicago Tribune writer and icon Mike Royko would say, ‘no self-respecting hot dog would ever be caught with ketchup layered on it!”

On Friday and Saturday evenings, there’s a line out the front door along S.E. Ocean Boulevard. Currently, 50% of Pusateri’s meal orders are for delivery or pick-up –– via GrubHub, DoorDash, Uber Eats, Delivery Dudes, Slice –– and –– the restaurant’s website.

Many customers pick-up partially baked Pusateri’s pizzas to finish warming up at home. Customers who drive into Stuart from near and far to dine also take home extra sandwiches, pizzas, and a few jars of Giardiniera with them for later.

During the work week, Stuart’s bustling medical, law enforcement, and legal communities pack the place for lunch specials that last all afternoon long. It’s incredible how many people are either from Chicago, or lived there at some point. Anyone in uniform or wearing any kind of Florida medical, police, fire department, military, or nurse ID automatically gets 15% off their Pusateri’s food order.

The only changes owner Tom Bean and senior manager Trebor have made to the restaurant were to be open seven days a week, replace the AC system, expand online ordering, delivery, and tableside technology, improve both beer and wine selections, add four big screen TVs and a sound system, and refresh the outdoor dining space, so Florida favorites such as Jimmy Buffet, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, and other crooners can be heard in the background.

“We’ve improved our overall beverage selection to be more sit down dining and happy hour friendly, especially since our outdoor Tiki hut patio is such a great place to hang out, watch sports, and chat with other Chicago-loving diners no matter what the weather is like,” Mr. Bean says.

The City of Stuart rightly banned plastics and other harmful to-go and delivery packaging recently, and so the Pusateri’s staff has become especially mindful of new eco-friendly utensil and food-safe container solutions available.

From approximately 4 PM to 9 PM, the outdoor Tiki hut transforms into a family style happy hour, serving beer and wine along with a “build your own” pasta dinner menu, which ranges from $13 to $16, and includes Pusateri’s famous meatballs, crispy or grilled chicken, and mushrooms. Everyone chats with each other and shares a laugh, which is what makes the culture of Stuart so special.

Given COVID, outdoor dining has become especially popular. More and more Chicago sports enthusiasts, fan clubs, and local office parties utilize Pusateri’s to cater their special occasions and big games.

The Lichtenstein family is actually planning to host a Chicago-themed ECHO Fine Properties pizza n’ dogs party in 2022, mainly because of Pusateri’s classic menu, outdoor event space, and large public parking lot directly next door.

Pusateri’s also remains passionate about sponsoring local Martin County youth lacrosse teams, whilst only hiring solid employees with a good work ethic, sound references, and a can-do attitude.

Beyond the authentic menu, the people who’ve worked at Pusateri’s for many years are really the lifeblood of the establishment. One hardworking fellow named Corey, who hails from the Charlestown area of Boston, oversees much of the kitchen, dough, and sauce making.

Another hysterical spitfire from Boston –– who’s ironically named Philly –– is both a walking comedy show and a beloved server. Her tongue-in-cheek sarcasm and tableside manner is as much a staple at Pusateri’s as their never-changing menu. In fact, regulars can’t leave without getting a hug from Philly. Everyone loves her that much.

Since their menu is so authentic, customers are often quite particular about exact toppings and true Chicago-style ingredients. The secret to Pusateri’s core business is that the staff listens carefully to each customer, especially over the phone or online, to get every meal order exactly right.

The only challenge Pusateri’s staff admits is that freshly made-to-order meals from scratch can sometimes take a little more time, during some busy mealtimes and big game days. One frequent patron and his wife from the South Side of Chicago said to another table “Relax, my friend: it’s all well worth the wait.”

In my view, Pusateri’s really is one of the most welcoming, down to earth, and delicious Chicago-style places to eat along the Treasure Coast, with a menu that will never change or be duplicated.

Pusateri’s Pizza:

Address:  221 S.E. Ocean Blvd., Stuart, Florida 34994
Cuisine:  Authentic Chicago-style pizza, sandwiches, and dogs
Alcohol:  Beer and wine
Phone: 772-288-9810
Hours:  11:30 AM to 9 PM everyday, 1 PM to 8 PM Sunday
Delivery:  DoorDash, GrubHub, UberEats, Delivery Dudes, Slice

Posted in Uncategorized on January 11, 2022 at 1:30 pm.


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