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South Beach's Buon Pane Italiano Offers Bread of the Boot

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When Dario Cestaro opened Buon Pane Italiano on Miami Beach in mid-April, he quickly realized he couldn't keep up with the bounty of loaves, pizzas and pies that his bread-maker Alberto Lionetti began pumping out at 3 a.m. that morning.

"He was able to make 40 different things, and I didn't even know what some of them were," explains the 33-year-old Cestaro, who hails from Puglia in the heel of Italy's boot.

Dario and his father Walter pumped their lives' savings, more than $300,000, into the place and recruited Lionetti, 52, and his son Michele, 19, from Lucera at the northern tip of Puglia. 

It's a poor city, Lionetti explains as Cestaro translates. The slumping Italian economy has led to widespread unemployment. Bakers in the area have begun drastically cutting prices to keep customers coming through the doors each morning. For those like Lionetti there were few options.

But for the last two months he has gleefully pumped out a bounty of southern Italian style loves and treats alongside crisp, airy baguettes and thick, Roman style pizzas layered with potato coins and salty Parmesan cheese. 

The bulk of Puglian pizzas, offered for $1.90 to $2.90 a slice, lack sauce. They're a near cross of thick Sicilian slices with the crisp, bubbly crusts made famous in Naples. One variety is topped with razor-thin slices of eggplant while another is layered with salty, savory and slices of baked capricciosa ham. The stunner is the panzerotto ($3.40). Fresh mozzarella and tangy, basil-flecked tomato sauce is tucked inside ultra fluffy dough that puffs out and forms a crisp crust becoming a kind of savory, lunchtime doughnut that would pair well with the tins of eggplant parmigiana ($7.90).

They also whip out a bounty of fresh baked breads each morning. Cestaro advises coming early for yeasty wedges of pane Pugliese ($2.90 per pound) culled out of massive rounds or the sandwich rolls tartarughino that look like little beige turtle shells. It's a novel concept in America, Cestaro says, where most are used to industrial, shelf-stable loaves wrapped in plastic rather than the neighborhood bakeries still common throughout Italy and Europe.

"In Puglia little old ladies who can barely walk will still get up at seven in the morning to get their bread for the day," Cestaro says. "That what we want to be, a real panetteria."

The shop offers crisp French baguettes and flaky croissants alongside planks of Roma tomato-topped focaccia, fresh breadsticks and biscotti. There is treccia ($2.50) offering buttery braids studded with chocolate braided with sugar stuffed into every crevice. They sit Freshly made pies ($4.40) that are about six inches across and filled with Nutella or the sweetened ricotta cheese that is often piped into cannolis.

The plan is to soon offer freshly made pastas, but don't wait. Lionetti has been baking from these recipes since he was 15 years old. He proudly hands over a card with the title "technical expert."

"Really, he's an artist," Cestaro says. 

Buon Pane Italiano is located at 729 5th St. on Miami Beach. Open daily from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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