Some people fangirl over Taylor Swift. At Greenpointers, we get excited about the short rib ravioli at Naked Dog (47 Java St.). In fact, I’ve been known to eat said pasta multiple times in a single week. What can I say? I’m in my pasta era.
The difference between Taylor Swift and Naked Dog is that you most likely won’t have to wait in line to eat at the Greenpoint Italian restaurant. Naked Dog is small, but it’s still somewhat of a hidden gem on a sleepy stretch of West Street.
The warm and welcoming restaurant opened in 2015 and serves addictive homemade pasta and other Italian specialties. Naked Dog straddles a delicate line of being both family-friendly and romantic with something for everyone.
The restaurant’s owner and Greenpoint local, Cecilia Di Paola, referred to Naked Dog as “her baby.” It is her first restaurant, and probably the only one she’ll own in her lifetime, she told Greenpointers.
Di Paola is incredibly involved in the day-to-day affairs. She personally oversees the menu and helps decide which dishes go on it after tastings and discussions with the chef. “You could say that it is a joint effort between our chef, myself, and our GM Nunzio,” Di Paola said.
Greenpointers spoke with Di Paola about Naked Dog’s unique name, habit-forming homemade pasta, and new late night bar program.
Greenpointers: Let’s start with the name. When you hear “Naked Dog,” it’s not immediately clear that it serves Italian food, or that it’s even a restaurant. What led you to make this interesting choice?
Cecilia Di Paola: I wanted to name the restaurant something that was important to me. I wanted it to mean something because I sensed that this restaurant would be important.
Back then, I had a dog I was very attached to. His name was Luigi, and I almost named the restaurant that, but there are a lot of restaurants called Luigi. My husband and I called our dog the “naked dog” because he didn’t like clothes, collars, and harnesses. So, we named the restaurant Naked Dog after Luigi.
Looking back, I might have called it Luigi instead. People sometimes expect something else when they see the name Naked Dog, like a dog groomer. Every six months, I go back and think about changing it or adding Luigi to the name.
Greenpointers: In 2015, when Naked Dog opened, West Street was a bit bare… and still is. Why did you decide to open “your baby” there?
Di Paola: We opened Naked Dog there mostly because we liked the space and the corner. I also liked the fact that it was industrial back then. It had a lot of charm.
There were not a lot of restaurants on West Street. Achilles Heel was nearby, but that was it. The high rises are here now, and obviously, I like it when we get busier and busier, but the fact that neighborhood is getting more crowded might not change things for us. We have 68 seats and that’s it. It’s a small restaurant. But, I wouldn’t mind a little competition.
Greenpointers: Naked Dog’s homemade pasta really stands out in a city with a surplus of Italian joints. What makes your food so good?
Di Paola: Our chef and our kitchen staff! They are all very dedicated. They make sure everything is consistent. One of the hardest things is making food the same way every time. We check our food a lot. If something does not come out right, we start over. There are a lot of eyes on the food. That makes a difference.
Plus, we make the pasta fresh the same day, maybe the day before. It goes really fast. We make everything from scratch. It’s easier to control the food that way.
Greenpointers: Naked Dog recently started a late night bar program. Tell us more about that.
Di Paola: We turn our restaurant into a cozy bar from 11 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. We will be serving cocktails, wine, desserts and a small selection of menu items, mostly appetizers and sides. We won’t do pastas or entrees late at night. We didn’t want to keep the restaurant open until 1:30. That wasn’t the point.
I always want to eat a bite when I drink, and realized that while Greenpoint is full of wonderful bars, not many of them offer late snacks or desserts.
It’s similar to the concept at Achilles Heel. We are always sending people there because we are closed, and they have food! We wanted to offer a similar experience.
Greenpointers: What is your favorite cocktail on the menu?
Di Paola: There are a few. The “Hornet” was my favorite for a long time. It has tequila, cucumber, and lime, and is so refreshing. Right now my favorite is the “Bitter On Bitter.” It’s a twist on an Aperol Spritz, but ours is made with both Campari and Aperol, so it’s not too sweet or too bitter.
Greenpointers: What is your favorite food item that will be offered late night?
Di Paola: For late-night, the fried eggplant is my favorite. It’s called the “Torretta di Melanzane.” It’s crispy eggplant with fresh burrata and a balsamic glaze. It’s both fried and refreshing. It’s one of my favorite items in general. I like it for the late-night menu because I often crave fried food at night.
Greenpointers: Do you have a favorite dinner entree?
Di Paola: This has never changed, but it’s not one of the most popular dishes. I love the “Maltagliata,” which translates to “wrongly cut one.” It’s a large square-shaped pasta in a white pork sauce. The taste is earthy. No matter my mood, it always makes me happy.
Greenpointers: Where do you hang out in North Brooklyn when you’re not at Naked Dog?
Di Paola: This is easy… Ashbox Cafe (1154 Manhattan Ave.). That’s where I usually go for lunch. Japanese is my favorite type of food after Italian. Ashbox’s owner, Yoko, is so sweet and makes everything herself from scratch. I like knowing what I am eating.