Although 4300 miles away from their native Rome, brothers Francesco and Simone Panella feel right at home in North Williamsburg. Last Friday, they opened Antica Pesa, the neighborhood’s newest Italian restaurant, on Berry Street. Both are excited to bring the family tradition of Antica Pesa’s sister Roman establishment to a neighborhood so similar to their own.
Antica Pesa Rome is located in Trastevere, a rione (district of Rome) with a history stretching back to the eighth century BC. Like Williamsburg, Trastevere is separated from the big city by a river (the Tiber), and has become a hotbed of culture, art and good food. “Williamsburg is evolving,” said Simone, “much like Travestere continues to evolve. This is why we chose Williamsburg as our location, and not Manhattan.”
Antica Pesa, (“Old Balance” in Italian) has been in the Panella family for four generations. The brothers strive to bring the traditional flavor of the original restaurant to Williamsburg, with a few modern twists. “I want to simply bring the same taste here, but with some different dishes so we can take care of the vegans and vegetarians. We want to have dishes that everyone can eat and enjoy,” Simone, who is also head chef explained while supervising a kitchen full of culinary staff, freshly transplanted from the Eternal City.
Dishes ($10 to $29) are simple Italian fare. Starters include stuffed grilled squid with chickpea rosti, and seasonal marinated vegetables with hummus and piadina. (Simone is particularly excited about his traditional pasta dishes, such as a house-made spinach gnocci with oven-roasted tomatoes and pesto. Among the entrees is grilled rack of lamb with spicy chicory and onions in agrodolce and cod, two ways with tomatoes, caramelized onions, and carrot almond cream are included. Citrus soup with coconut milk or a lavender panna cotta with Concord grapes and saba are just two of Antica Pesa Williamsburg’s dessert options.
Simone’s sous chef, Riccardo Rossetti, who cooked alongside Simone in Rome, is eager to produce high quality Italian cuisine for the neighborhood. The local produce impresses him in particular. “We are really lucky because we weren’t expecting to have such wonderful ingredients,” Rossetti commented. “We are doing our best to source locally as much as possible at the moment, and look forward to doing that more in the future.”
To bring some of the feeling and décor of Antica Pesa Rome to their Williamsburg interior, the Panellas hired Brooklyn-based BArC Studio. The space, though lofty and modern, is also traditional and inviting. Towards the front, dark wood and leather chairs surround an electric fireplace. Large, half-dome lamps hang from the restaurant’s high ceilings, creating a feeling of intimacy. “We wanted to bring a bit of the Italian elegance of the sister restaurant, but at the same time we wanted to keep the open feeling that is very New York,” Clementina Ruggieri, one of the designers, commented.
Attendees at Antica Pesa’s friends and family event last week found the restaurant teeming with a mixture of Manhattanites and Brooklynites, hopeful for its success. “Ciao”s and “grazie”s flowed as steadily as the wine and choice hors d’oeuvres. Emanuela Curnis, an Italian diplomat, was one of many to express admiration for the food, particularly the focaccia “Coming from Italy,” Curnis assured,” I can tell you that this is really good.”
The real test will be what the locals think in the coming weeks. Simone encourages everyone to casually come in for some good food and conversation. “The place is a little bit classic, but not so. A little bit antique, but not too much. You can come and dine in a T-shirt or in a jacket. It’s a place where everyone can come and eat good food.”
115 Berry Street
6PM – 12AM Daily