There is a hidden treasure in south Lakeland on the corner of 540A and Carter Rd/Scott Lake Rd that regulars probably don’t want the masses to know about because it is their own little pizza slice of heaven.
It is called Stadium Pizza and Italian Grill. Owners Juan Landaeta, and brothers Elias and Fernando Castro bought the shop a few years ago with a vision of turning it into a true neighborhood restaurant. They are well on their way to having that dream come true. Managing and operating partner Juan oversees the daily operations, while Elias and Fernando help with the marketing and behind the scene operations.
Elias and Fernando were out of town when I did the interview for this article, so I sat down with Juan and he gave me the scoop on their little American dream. The trio was childhood friends in Venezuela, and Fernando was the best man in Juan’s wedding. All are family men and they wanted a restaurant that was family friendly; A place where neighborhood families could come for good food and good company. That is exactly what this small pizza, sports grill and Italian restaurant has become.
As standard as lasagna is on the menu of any Italian restaurant, the lasagna at Stadium Pizza and Italian Grill is anything but standard.
Each delicious component of this dish is prepared to perfection before being layered into one delightfully satisfying dish. Uniquely seasoned meat, cheeses and sauce are layered between perfectly cooked pasta and will make you go Mmmmm! A couple of things struck me about this dish; One, the smooth texture of the meat and cheese layers which are made from the best quality ingredients and two, the bursts of flavor that consumed every bite.
Another Italian favorite is Fettuccine Alfredo. I have never been a fan of this dish, but my wife, and daughters have never met an Alfredo they didn’t like. Juan insisted I give his a try, and try I did, over and over again. This Alfredo was creamy, with a rich cheesy taste and had hints of other spices that brought it all together, and the chicken was grilled to perfection. Juan said what makes their Alfredo so good is that the Alfredo sauce is freshly prepared for each order. It is hand whisked then tossed with the pasta. Juan said, “We do not buy a premade sauce. Ours is truly made for each diner.”
Stadium also has a 10 seat granite bar as you walk into the restaurant with flat screens for the big games. Its cheers like atmosphere bring regulars in for a weekly dose of fun and food. When friends gather together in this family friendly spot they are able to satisfy their appetite for game day food. You can wing it up with traditional wings or boneless. The boneless wings are made with plump white chicken breast that has been marinated overnight in the chef’s secret sauce then breaded and fried to perfection. These big and meaty morsels are not of the prepackaged variety.
The traditional wings, also plump and meaty, are great as an appetizer and hearty enough for a meal. What I really liked about their wings is that they are actually cooked properly. Not over done! I can’t stand wings that are over cooked. You wing lovers know what I am talking about and who serves them!
Both are served with your choice of 4 sauces: hot, mild, BBQ and teriyaki. If none of those float your boat, no problem. The kitchen will be happy to mix up another flavor to your liking. I loved the honey bbq sauce made with honey produced right here in Polk County.
Juan was eager to suggest a classic Stadium dish—the Italian Chicken Roll. A healthier version of traditional Stromboli this is a tasty and satisfying roll that two can share. This dish has become not only a popular meal item but an appetizer bar item for people to share as well. Made with the same prepared fresh daily pizza dough, the chicken roll is perfectly seasoned grilled chicken breast, fresh mozzarella cheese and pizza sauce all rolled together, baked to perfection and served with a sprinkling of grated parmesan and a side of marinara.
On to the pizza. It seems like everywhere you turn someone is opening up a pizza shop. Juan says there is a lot that goes into making a good pizza. “It all starts with the pizza dough. You have to know what you are doing. We make ours from scratch and you can sure tell if we get a bad batch. I will throw dough out before I put it in a pie.” From the traditional pies to gourmet pizzas, they have something for everyone and if you don’t see your favorite on their menu just ask, they will be glad to create!
And let’s not forget their sandwiches. From hot subs of meatball, Phylli cheese steak and ham & cheese to big gourmet burgers they’ve got you covered. They have 8 different salads and a number of freshly prepared desserts round out the menu. They truly have something for everyone.
Stadium has 6 beers on tap and at least 10 bottled beers. Juan loves wine and they carry finer wines from all around the world. The portions are generous and the prices are very reasonable with lunch and daily specials starting at $4.99. The whole menu is available for delivery within 5 miles and also for take out. It is no small surprise that Stadium Pizza and Italian Grill has become such a popular place. Juan is a soft spoken, passionate man that understands a thing or two…well three in Juan’s case about family. He and his wife Daniela have three beautiful children and that is what he lives for. When a man loves his family, you can see it in his eyes, but you can feel it in his words. He speaks of them with such devotion and honor. That is the kind of restaurant that Juan, Elias and Fernando are building…A place where food and family create good times.
Stadium Pizza & Italian Grill 1035 E. County Road 540A, Highlands Lakeland, Fl. 33813 863.701.7000 MJStadium.com