Much like a shot of espresso, a visit to Dolce Tesoro packs a lot of flavorful goodness into a small space.
A combination bakery, gelato shop and espresso bar, which opened last week in the Tahitian Gardens Shopping Center, Dolce Tesoro is the brainchild of executive chef AJ Black and his wife, Jolene. The couple already owns Il Tesoro Ristorante, which recently celebrated its second anniversary on the island. However, they wanted to open a different kind of eatery that would offer "fine foods with a to-go option."
"We wanted to bring a little feeling of Italy and France to Sanibel," said AJ Black, one of the island's top culinary artists whose recipes have been published in the Grand Masters cookbooks alongside Thomas Keller and Chef Daniel Bolud for Relais & Chateaux. "We wanted people to feel more casual but still be able to enjoy fine food, and they don't have to break the bank to do it."
Among Dolce Tesoro's "Savory Bakery" menu items are pizzas (with toppings including salmon, potato, primavera, caprese, quatrro formaggi and margarita), lasagna, baked ziti, ravioli and meatballs.
"We have items that everybody will like... even the children," added AJ, who noted that his own daughters have taste-tested and approved the entire menu. "A lot of my favorite dishes as a kid are my kids' favorites."
Also on the bakery menu — made fresh on site each day — are baguettes, rolls, tarts and an assortment of croissants (plain, chocolate, apricot, orange cream, vanilla cream and Nutella) and cupcakes (vanilla bean, chocolate, lemon meringue and peanut butter cup, to name a few).
A variety of individual serving-size cheesecakes, tiramisu, cookies, triple chocolate cake and sweet or savory crepes are also offered, some on a daily basis.
The modest walk-in shop, which provides outdoor hi-top tables for diners, is painted with vibrant colors and decorated with flower boxes, tapestries, fresco-style paintings and curtains, evoking a European sense of decor.
"This space sort of reflects our character," AJ Black added. "It's looks like it's Old World, and gives you a feeling that you're off the island."
In addition to baked goods, Dolce Tesoro serves coffees, espressos and lattes — all exclusively by Italian manufacturer Lavazza — as well as sodas, teas, bottled waters and fresh-squeezed juices.
"Most gourmet coffees, even if they come from Italy, cut corners in the roasting process, or they don't filter the water properly," said Black, who selected Lavazza from among 50 varieties. "I think that people should start a meal and end a meal with a great coffee."
The take-out eatery also offers more than a dozen flavors of gelato, including amaretto, strawberry rose, pistachio, black currant and a few exotic-sounding varieties like vaniglia, cremrosce and tartufo.
"When people walk in here, we want them to feel like they're stepping into a place in Sicily," explained Jolene Black. "It also has kind of a French flair to it. We hope that people will want to come here not just for the great food, but for the ambiance as well."
Dolce Tesoro, located at 2003 Periwinkle Way, is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week. Delivery will also be offered in the near future. Call 472-4300 or fax orders to 472-4333. Their menu is available online at www.iltesoro.net.
AJ Black and his wife, Jolene, pictured at their new take-out eatery, Dolce Tesoro.