A brand new Italian restaurant on Java Street has been packed to capacity ever since opening September 26.
The Naked Dog is a rustic, 60-seater, on a quiet corner of West and Java Streets with nary the sound of a construction truck chugging along the street from time to time.
Uncomplicated wooden tables and chairs in the dining area are paired with white and grey tiles along the bar. An exposed brick fireplace lies on one side of the restaurant directly across from a colorful illustration of a small town on the opposite wall. Exposed bulbs in different shapes and sizes hang above the bar counter, giving it that quintessential industrial look that has become synonymous with new restaurants opening in North Brooklyn.
The food is reflective of the décor – classic Italian fare with samplings from the north, south, and central parts of Italy, said co-owner Cecilia Di Paola, who hails from the town of Bari, which overlooks the Adriatic Sea in Southern Italy.
Seafood and fresh vegetables comprise a big part of the cuisine in that region, but at her restaurant in Greenpoint, Di Paola also wanted to offer more earthy fare, reminiscent of the north such as tagliatelle, more appropriate for the cold winters of New York.
Maltagliati with white pork ragu and rosemary; Spezatino su polenta (braised short ribs, crispy polenta cake, horseradish gremolata); and Bisteca alla Fiorentina (Black Angus rib eye, baby Yukon potatoes, caramelized onions) are just some of the delicacies that can be found on the menu at The Naked Dog.
But if the name of the restaurant sounds odd, don’t worry. It’s a sentiment shared by some other perplexed customers, says Di Paola.
The story behind it is melt-your-heart worthy.
The restaurant is named after Di Paola’s pet dog, Luigi. But Di Paola feared if she gave her restaurant that name it would just come off as a generic sounding Italian restaurant. So she came up with the next best thing: Luigi’s nickname: the naked dog.
It’s something Di Paola and her husband adopted due to Luigi’s utter refusal of clothing.
“He refused to wear a sweater in the winter and just wants to roll about in the snow,” said Di Paola. He refused to wear a collar too, in case you’re wondering.
But it was important to Di Paola, especially as Luigi is now in the later years of his life, that she have something important to remember him by.
For now the restaurant is only open for dinner, and was packed both nights this past weekend.
It’s an especially encouraging sign for Di Paola, who says the restaurant was two years in the making.
The space has housed one commercial establishment or another over the years, but never a restaurant, so Di Paolo and her business partner Akmal Muhamatkulov, had to undertake a gut renovation.
Neither has a background in the restaurant industry either. Muhamatkulov works in construction, and Di Paola studied law and international relations, but both always wanted to open a restaurant.
Particularly Di Paola who wants to recreate the memories of her grandmother’s cooking in Greenpoint. The restaurant receives fresh produce every day, and the pasta and the sauce are all made on site. In fact, Di Paola even made the focaccia served at the restaurant Sunday night, but to that end she says she will have to train someone else to take over as she becomes more involved with the management duties.
She said one of the biggest challenges was recreating the exact flavors she remembered from her childhood and her country without having access to the same ingredients.
Enter chef Amit Rabinovich, a Mario Batali protégé. He worked as the maestro’s sous chef at Babbo, and has been critical to executing and planning the menu at the Naked Dog, satisfying a lot of Di Paola’s initial concerns and reservations.
“When you see the place is full, and people are coming in, it is already a good sign that you are doing things right,” said Di Paola. “To see people happy, and most importantly to see them happy about the food and come back for more is the greatest measure of success for me.”
The Naked Dog, 47 Java Street, Open Tue-Sun, 5-11 p.m., for more information and to check out the menu visit http://www.nakeddogbrooklyn.com/.