Story and Photos by Melanie Kopacz
What started as a father and son’s special connection through the love of cooking authentic Italian dishes together has turned into a legacy of recipes that have since been shared for generations across southeast Florida.
Mario The Baker has been dishing out its northeastern style pizza and Italian food since the restaurant opened in 2001 on State Road 7 in Royal Palm Beach. It has since become a staple in the community. It all goes back to the late Mario Scinicariello. “My father-in-law’s recipe for success was very easy,” General Manager Kevin Puebla said. “Keep things fresh and serve things you would only serve to your family.”
The motto at Mario The Baker is “Everything’s Fresh” — whether it’s picking up a hot pizza chock full of toppings like homemade Italian sausage, or sitting down to a piece of smooth and creamy lasagna. The longtime staff strives to greet customers with a familial flair, serving up hearty favorites that have made this a spot where many regulars spend time with friends and family.
“Mario started in Miami in 1969. His first restaurant was actually in Connecticut when he was 18 years old,” explained Puebla, who also got his start at the same age while working at the Royal Palm Beach restaurant as a teen.
That is where he met and later married Mario’s daughter, Palmina. The two have been running the family business ever since.
“Most of our recipes, like our tomato sauce and our marinara, are recipes that were his mother’s and father’s,” Puebla said. “They were also restaurateurs in Connecticut. When they first came over from Italy, his father was a baker by trade, hence the name, Mario The Baker.”
Both the baking and the sauce process start early every morning.
“We simmer our tomato sauce for five hours every day,” Puebla said. “It’s still the same old-school recipes that he had when he opened his first restaurant.”
That sauce is key to the recipes. A touch of sweetness comes from Italian tomatoes along with layers of flavor.
“The flavor profile — we use pork bones and sauté those with onions and garlic and add our tomatoes. A little bit of seasoning, and the flavor as it simmers for five hours — you get the flavor of the bones. There’s no meat in the sauce, but we use it as a flavoring, like you’d use a stock. It’s different from basic marinara sauce,” Puebla said.
While the sauce is simmering, the dough is rising. Balls of dough are draped on trays across the counters, ready to be turned into a feast.
“On a Friday night, we can push out between 350 to 400 pizzas,” he said. “Our pizza sauce is really simple. We use fresh, Italian tomatoes. We grind them with a small amount of seasoning.”
Cheese and pepperoni may be the most popular toppings, but the Italian sausage is a specialty. “We make it homemade as well,” Puebla said. “We use freshly ground pork butt with our seasoning. That’s it. No fillers, no nothing.”
Also popular is “Our Favorite Pizza,” made with sliced tomatoes, garlic and basil.
Before any entrée, come the must-have hot garlic rolls. They’re baked to perfection with just enough crisp on the outside and a light, airy inside, with freshly chopped garlic on top.
“On a good weekend day, between our catering and dining business, we go through four or five thousand garlic rolls in a day,” Puebla said.
Along with the rolls, comes a side of spaghetti with dishes like the chicken parmesan — one of the biggest sellers.
“It’s a local favorite. We do a tremendous amount of catering from 40 people to 1,500, and I’d have to say the majority have chicken parmesan in their catering,” Puebla said. “All our chicken is free range. No hormones, no antibiotics. It’s very clean. You can definitely taste the quality.”
Quality is key when it comes to picking tomatoes, too.
“We’re constantly on top of trying to be sure we have the right product and good quality. Throughout the year, we’ll buy tomatoes from different packers and farms in Italy, because different times of the year, different harvests could be riper, or a better product,” Puebla said. “The California tomatoes have a little tang to them, and Italian tomatoes tend to be a little sweeter.”
The sauce is a big factor in the lasagna, too. The ground beef is layered with Sopraffina ricotta.
“In Italian, ‘sopraffina’ means super fine. So, it’s really creamy, not lumpy. And the meat, we mix with some of our sauce. It’s delicious,” Puebla said. “Our veal parmesan is also huge. It’s a top-round butcher cut. Most people wouldn’t think coming into a little place like ours, that you’d get something like that, but we use a really good product.”
There are a number of pasta choices in addition to some newer favorites — including the chicken francese.
“It’s very light, made with a lemon, white wine and butter sauce. We added a few things to the menu, along with a porcini mushroom tortellini with a shiitake parmesan cream sauce,” Puebla said.
From salads to soups and subs, kids’ meals and desserts, there’s something for everyone who loves Italian, along with a selection of beer and wine.
Longtime customer, Carolyn Reynolds, dines with friends and family regularly, as if it were her home. “I come here two to three times a week. We’re like family,” Reynolds said.
The large and casual open space can hold 150 people with another 30 in the outdoor dining area. A brown tiled ceiling and vintage stained-glass lighting are reminiscent of a traditional pizzeria. Family keepsakes line the walls.
“I’ve watched a lot of families grow up here, including my own,” Puebla said. “It’s a family environment, and one of us is always here. It’s really important to us that one of us is always here to greet the customers.”
So, while namesake Mario Scinicariello may have passed away in 2016, his love of food, community and gathering lives on.
Mario The Baker is at 1007 State Road 7 in Royal Palm Beach. For more info., call (561) 798-4030 or visit www.theoriginalmariothebaker.com.