In the blood
Barile and Cacace grew up in one of the culinary capitals of the world: Italy. Just above the ankle on the boot near Naples, right on the Gulf of Naples. Their hometown is the port town of Pozzuoli, where visitors can catch ferries to the island of Capri. It also happens to be where a certain Italian star, Sophia Loren, is from.
Barile’s father was a fisherman. So was Cacace’s. And some of his relatives owned a restaurant. Their families lived next door to each other – so close that the windows and doors were left open so they could converse from house to house.
But everyone was always in the kitchen, Barile says. Rolling up his sleeves, he places his large hands into the brown plastic bin that contains what will later become meatballs. With delicate movements, he gently begins to turn the mixture.
It’s the same recipe they learned to make as young cooks.
Meanwhile, the sauce on the stove warms. The impeccable combination of crushed tomatoes, garlic and olive oil spreads through the air. Down the counter, Cacace tosses a round of pizza dough – up and down, up and down, until it reaches perfect Neapolitan thickness. Then he places the white dough on the counter to add sauce and cheese.
Restaurants are what the self-proclaimed cousins know. Cacace’s family owns a place called Zi’ Teresa. Both of them worked in the restaurant as children, starting about the age of 9. From dishwashers (Barile admits to lingering there for a while) to prepping and then finally cooking, they made their way up the line.
By the time they reached their 20s, the pair knew they wanted to have their own business one day. They just didn’t know it would be on the other side of the world.
Six years ago, the pair got word from someone in Pozzuoli that someone in Palm Harbor, in Pinellas County, needed help in his restaurant. Barile was 20; Cacace was 26. The lure of travel and life in a new country couldn’t be ignored. To Florida it was.
When they got here, Barile found a job at what used to be Peppino’s Italian restaurant in Palm Harbor. Cacace wasn’t so lucky. Things weren’t exactly what he expected. So he headed to Cocoa Beach, where his uncle lived, and found a similar job there.
On opposite coasts, the two friends kept in touch every day. They didn’t do much beyond work and save money. The days were long and the nights lonely.
Remembering those first few months makes Barile shake his head. Learning a new language and culture proved to be more daunting than either had thought. They almost gave up and went back home.
“I thought, what are we doing?” he says.
But then Cacace met Amber. Barile met Roseann. Their English got better. They saved more money.
Eventually, Cacace moved to Spring Hill, where Barile had ended up with his wife’s family. Not long after that, he saw that a new shopping center would be built at the intersection of Barclay and Powell, in one of the fastest-growing areas of Hernando County.
Driving past the plot of grass and trees one afternoon, Barile knew this was it. With the help of his new family, he and Cacace got a loan. To cut down on costs, they installed the tile and painted the walls. They’ll never forget the long nights that ended at 4 a.m. Or picking out the recipes for their menu – only dishes they would eat themselves. Especially all the seafood ones, with names like “cartoccio,” that come to the table on fire, to be followed with sips of wine the pair have shipped from vineyards back home.
Touch of Napoli opened in December.
“It’s a – what do you call it? – a labor of love,” Barile says. Cacace smiles.
Since they left, they’ve been back to Italy once. That was a year ago, for a few weeks. A short trip, but they were proud to return as men. Now they’re working on getting their mothers, who are afraid to fly, to come and stay for a few months.
One day, when they’re a little more established, they’d like to split time between there and here. But for now, it’s back to the meatballs. Barile looks for a spot to squeeze in one more on an already crowded tray. The fist-sized spheres are ready to be cooked.
A few moments later, the phone rings. It’s the first order of the day. Then a group of people walk in through the front door. Both are signs that it’s time for lunch.
“Hello!” the two chefs yell from the kitchen. The group smiles and waves back.
“Sometimes, I think, I don’t know why we left our country,” Barile says. “I miss my family. He misses his. But we like it here. There are other real Italians and Italian-Americans from New York. So we found a home. And here we are with our authentic food. It’s a touch of Naples.”