It wasn’t that shocking when Nights & Weekends closed in early March. The bar had always been the “cool” spot while occupying the triangle space of the Bedford/Nassau/Lorimer/McCarren intersection. But the crew parted ways with the owners of Five Leaves back in November, and it was destined to become something else. Thankfully, it wasn’t closed for long. One speedy renovation later, it’s now open as One Bedford. Not only is the interior redesigned, the restaurant now has a whole new day-long menu. Continue reading
“With this finger, I tasted the world.” Massimiliano Nanni raises his right pointer finger while recounting his childhood in Rimini, Italy, where his mother, Lella Alimentari’s namesake, ran a popular restaurant. “I would sit at the counter of the kitchen and I taste the papaya, I taste the kiwi—nobody have a kiwi in Italy, I come from a place with the truffle—I eat the frog, I eat the eel, I eat the snake. We want to try everything. This was my childhood.”
Nanni, known to friends as Chicco, met his wife, Paola Cittero while working on an Italian aquatic TV show. He was a diving assistant, she was the production designer. This is a funny detail given the strong Life Aquatic vibe in the café they’ve created. Between Nanni’s normally red cap (today it is pink) and quirky demeanor, Cittero’s blue jumpsuit and the vintage toys and uneven hand stamped signage, I can practically hear Seau Jorge strumming Bowie tunes.
Nanni’s been in the restaurant biz since 1995 when he opened Piadina in the West Village. In the intervening years, he’s opened many other restaurants, including the popular wood-fired pizza superstar Saraghina in Bed-Stuy, which Cittero designed and which feels like a big brother to the more intimate Lella (325 Manhattan Avenue). Nanni left Saraghina in 2011 and opened a now-shuttered seafood restaurant before hopping over to Williamsburg. The location was intentional, just across the street from PS 132 where Nanni and Cittero’s children go to school. After school, the kids hang out among the locals, many of whom are on laptops. “We don’t like to say we are chefs,” says Cittero, “we just cook. We’re cooking. We are both food lovers. I’m a production designer, an artist, we consider this our cafeteria. We are making food we usually make at home, that we give out to our kids.”
Lella’s specialty is the piadina, a sort of Italian quesadilla that’s popular in Nanni’s hometown. Every day he makes the piadina bread, then stuffs it with ingredients like roasted seasonal veggies and stracchino, a luscious unripened Italian cheese. Nothing is fussy, just fresh ingredients prepared beautifully; a poached egg over cauliflower, bacon, and chickpeas. Potato leek soup with speck. Burrata with roasted beets and carrots. They also have homemade pastries, quiche, and salads, most often topped with a poached egg.
Lella’s vibe is laid back cool and playful. It is European-feeling and whimsical without a hint of pretension. Toy trucks huddle near a vase of yellow tulips. A battered metal crock overflows with potatoes. The tin ceilings are whitewashed, walls are lined with Italian goods, books, an old scale. Art magazines and vintage action figures are scattered about. Lella is warm and chummy, just four sun-drenched booths and a communal table.
One of my favorite design elements is the handy takeaway window. “We sell the coffee by the window and we get all the people with dogs,” says Cittero. “Bike. Stroller. For me, it was like decoration, but we get the dog community.”
Nanni is already dreaming of his next venture: to host a program training former convicts as pizzaiolos. He’s eyeing a location in Brooklyn’s Navy Yard. “The Pizzaiolo was teaching to the penitentiary in my town. These men, what they went through, most of the time it’s really traumatic. They need to be working, working, working. They will learn fast. It will help them.”
“Art, food and a lot of love,” Cittero says as she glances at Nanni who is in the kitchen dancing to The Human League. “We keep busy.” She smiles and looks out the window. “And just look at this beautiful light.”
Lella Alimentari | 325 Manhattan Avenue
Open 8am to 7pm every day
Editors’ Note: This is our second post in a series about solo dining. Here’s our first post.
Perhaps the most obvious spot that comes to mind when one thinks of restaurants most suitable to the individual is a cafe. Dotted with open chairs opposite a single patron hunched in front of a laptop or over a book, the scene of predominantly lopsided tables is a familiar one in North Brooklyn any day of the week. Here’s my guide for where to go to get your work done by day, and in some cases even linger into the night.
For the same reasons I think a seat at the bar is the best seat in the house, I frequently find myself at the counter of Eagle Trading Company (258 Franklin Street) where the sweet server knows I’ll be having the Coronation Chicken (mango chutney, raita, arugula $7 as sandwich; or as salad over spinach and arugula $8) as I get work or “life admin” done while enjoying refills of iced green tea and a breeze from the Franklin Street-facing windows. If I’m there for breakfast (served until 4pm daily), it’s the B11 breakfast sandwich (eggs, jack cheese, avocado, jalapeños, tomato, onion, cilantro $7) with lots of hot sauce as I launch into productivity. Continue reading
Maman’s original SoHo cafe opened in early Fall 2014 without much fanfare. That is, until people tasted their Nutty Chocolate Chunk Cookie and that cookie alone should make you want to stop at their newest location at 80 Kent Street (between Franklin and West). Luckily, the southern-France-chic bakery has plenty of attention-worthy treats beyond the cookie to make it a welcome addition to our neighborhood!
I remember the time that I first noticed Polka Dot. I was walking down Manhattan Avenue, undoubtedly heading toward Peter Pan to satisfy my apple crumb donut addiction. Thankfully, I spotted the happy script across the street that was this little Polish cafe’s new sign. Many of you may not know that Polka Dot is in fact the reimagining of what was once the Polski Meat Market. Opened in 1996 by Marzena Parys and her husband, it’s evolved with the neighborhood into the gem that it is today. Continue reading
Champion Coffee may have recently shuttered at 1108 Manhattan Avenue (due to ‘unforeseen circumstances’), but caffeine addicts have no reason to be be sad. Two new Champions are soon to spring up elsewhere in Greenpoint to replace it.
First up will be a new cafe at 142 Nassau Avenue, on the site of Sweet Fox, which has now closed down. Champion’s Talitha Whidbee tells us that “Sweet Fox owner Jean Marc was ready to get back to his catering life and away from the constant demands of a cafe so we bought Sweet Fox from him which we will remodel over the next month and re-open as Champion Coffee.” This location will be almost exactly the same as the original Champion (with a slightly pared down food menu), and will be opening around September 22nd.
There is also a second, larger space in the pipeline, at 1107 Manhattan Avenue, directly across the road from the original. “Due to its size it will be a little longer in coming to fruition, but we are shooting for end of November”, Talitha tells us. This location will have the standard Champion food and drink menu, with the addition of kombucha on tap from Mombucha and a few other exclusive beverages.
You know those times when you don’t set out to do something, but somehow it just happens anyway? Well, this is pretty much how Sweetleaf, Greenpoint’s newest coffee shop, came about.
“I wasn’t looking to set up another cafe”, says owner Rich Nieto, “I was just looking to find a space to roast.”
Rich established Sweetleaf Coffee with a friend in 2008, in a tiny shop just over the Pulaski bridge. Seven years later and there is now an additional coffee shop in LIC, one in Williamsburg and, as of last week, a new one in Greenpoint. Rich bought out his partner about a year ago and now runs the entire operation. He recently started roasting his own beans out of a friend’s loft in Bushwick, but as he started to step up production it made sense to find a roasting space of his own.
“I was looking for a warehouse of around 1000 sq ft, but it was almost impossible to find something this small, everything is huge”, he tells us as we sit sipping coffee in the brand new Greenpoint outpost of Sweetleaf on Freeman Street. “I discovered this space because I used to drive past every day on my way between LIC and Williamsburg, and although it turned out to be the smallest warehouse space I could find, it was still way more space than I needed. The building is in a great location, just off Manhattan Avenue, so we decided to use the extra space by creating a cafe at the front and having our roastery at the back.” Continue reading
There’s been a whole lot of comings and goings amongst Greenpoint’s bars and restaurants recently. Here’s a round-up of a few changes that are on our radar…
Brooklyn Barge Bar (3 Milton Street) – This novelty floating bar has been a long time in the making and it’s looking like they’ll miss the boat with the summer crowd if they don’t get things going soon. Time Out are throwing a ‘first look’ party ($25 for unlimited beer and oysters) on the barge on August 26th, so it’s quite likely that this will be their opening night. Let’s hope they don’t have to cancel like they did with their 4th July celebrations. But, if they do, at least it means that Transmitter Park will stay a haven of tranquillity for a little longer.
Brooklyn Label (180 Franklin Street) – A sign in the window of this popular brunch spot says ‘closed for renovation’, along with a request to renew their sidewalk liquor license. However, it’s just been confirmed by the owners that the business is actually being sold and will be re-opening as something different in due course. Continue reading
There’s no shortage of top-notch coffee in Greenpoint, but it’s always fun to have options and, as of last week, we just got one more, courtesy of a new cafe with the suitably caffeine-related name of ‘Early’.
Early Coffee & Sandwich Shop (967 Manhattan Avenue), held its official grand opening on Saturday, where the neighborhood was warmly welcomed in from the cold with free-flowing coffee and canapé-sized tasters of their yummy sandwich menu. Owner Radek Kucharski was cheerily doing the rounds with prosecco and hot cider, whilst cafe manager Peter Chrostowski was doling out espressos, mimosas, and sweet treats by Vegan Divas. Radek told us he’s always dreamed of opening a cafe in the area and, now that the stars have finally aligned in his favor, he’s super excited about the new venture. Continue reading
As I strolled past Sharkey’s Driving School at the top of Bedford Avenue on Sunday evening, I noticed it was NO LONGER a driving school but instead some kind of pop-up gallery/shop. The guy inside told me that the space is about to be taken over by Five Leaves with view to an expansion and we can now confirm that this news is indeed absolutely true!
Five Leaves co-owner Kathy Mecham tell us “We are upgrading the entire restaurant: bigger kitchen, bigger room, bigger bar. This also means we will also be able to up our catering so it’s really exciting!” Continue reading