Two new restaurants offer fare with Italian influences

Sapori Grill’s chef whips up dishes created from scratch; Cantanzaro’s offers breakfast and lunch at downtown site.

Sapori Grill, at 1706 E. Main St., is the initial venture from Dennis Merchant, a local businessman who turned his love of cooking into a job.

“I’ve just always liked to cook at home,” he said recently. “We like to entertain for family and friends, and for years, people have been telling me I should open a restaurant.”

Chef Mike Chance, General Manager Jason Hague and six other employees, which includes a few family members, round out the staff.

Sapori Grill’s lunch and dinner menu choices include appetizers, pizzas, sandwiches and pastas, and meat entrees.

“These are foods we’ve eaten at home forever and when we started here, we began with what we felt was simple. ... Everything we make is created fresh, from scratch,” Merchant said.

A self-taught cook who has studied French and Italian cuisine, he has spent years perfecting what he says is authentic Neapolitan pizza.

There are two key differences, he said, with his pizza — the dough is made with only flour, water, yeast and salt, and the pie is then baked at 700 degrees. The high heat creates a crisp outer crust, but leaves the inside soft, Merchant said.

Another family business with Italian roots has expanded with a downtown eatery.

Catanzaro’s at 1 S. Limestone Street started serving breakfast and lunch earlier this month. The new quick lunch counter, as owner Joe Catanzaro calls it, offers hot plate lunch special, sandwiches, salads and desserts.

The Catanzaro family has been in business in Springfield since 1889, and ventured into the food business in 1951, Catanzaro said.

The family operates two other local businesses — Coe Catanzaro & Sons Produce and Catanzaro’s Pizza & Subs.

“We’ve also taking over the catering at the Bushnell Banquet Center,” Catanzaro said.

Catanzaro decided to open the downtown location because he sees it as providing more that just food to his customers.

“The service we provide to people who are downtown saves time and gas. ... It can be less stressful, too, if they can take a walk and easily and quickly pick up their lunch,” he said.

To keep customers interested, Catanzaro’s posts its daily specials on Twitter at .