The Gatekeepers, in which Eater roams the city meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen that work the host station at some of New York's most popular restaurants.
A few months ago, Francesco Panella and his brother Simone opened a Williamsburg branch of their family's famous Roman restaurant, Antica Pesa. If you stop by on an average night, you will find a dining room that is full of people eating pasta and drinking Negronis. Many of them will be speaking Italian, and a live jazz band might be playing by the fireplace. Antica Pesa has a distinctly European feel, but that is part of its charm. Eater recently chatted with Francesco about his favorite customers, and his move to America.
Why did you decide to open in Williamsburg? Francesco Panella, owner: First, because Williamsburg reminded me of Trastevere many years ago. And then because Trastevere means "other side of the river."
Did you bring over any of your staff from Italy? I'm a very lucky man, because in the kitchen, there are three amazing guys. Two are coming from Italy, and they've been working on this project for like three years. And also another one is American — he is from New York and he worked for me in Roma. I asked him to work for us — he knows that the cuisine is very important to us.
What's the busiest time of the week? For me, I don't care about the date, I don't care about the full day or the not-full day. Every single moment of the day is busy for me. You see the restaurant busy? It's busy. You see the restaurant not busy? It's yet to be busy. You have to work...to make it busy. But for me, it's the same. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday? The restaurant for me is always full.
I've noticed that the restaurant is very busy on weekday nights as well as on the weekend. Did you think it would take off so quickly? Actually, I don't have a lot time to think about if I'm busy or not. I have just enough time to take care of my new restaurant and my new guests. I don't know if I'm working a lot or not. What I know is that if I just start with the restaurant, I want to try to do better and better and better for my guests.
Is the food here different than the food served in Rome? It is a bit different. We have some signature plates for the neighborhood. For every course, we have something vegan and gluten-free. My menu in Roma is different, but we have a lot respect for the neighborhood, and we have a lot respect for New Yorkers. And I'm here because I want to also keep some influence from you guys. That makes me happy. That make me happy because I go home every night and I have something more in my heart. You know what I mean? This is what I really love. I really love to understand everyone, every night, and try to do our best.
Have you spotted any celebrities yet? Everyone is a big celebrity. For me, the celebrity is the nicest guest. The first time in the restaurant? For me, you are a celebrity because you never tried the cuisine. So, you are a big celebrity for me because I want to try to be friendly with you. I want to give you my emotion, my passion. So this is a celebrity for me.
Who are your favorite guests? My favorite guest is the guest that asks me something about my family, my history.
Where do you go out to eat when you're not at the restaurant? Do you check out other places in the neighborhood? Of course. I love all the cuisine over here. This is the reason I wanted to be in Brooklyn. The competition is very hard, but it makes me so happy because I have a great, amazing restaurant and a great chef over here.
What is the most popular dish on the menu? Of course, the one that is most popular is spaghetti cacio e pepe because everyone knows we are the first to invent this one in Roma. It is my signature dish in Roma, so the people that go to the restaurant first and then go back here love to try the first of this kind of pasta. It is the most popular.
Is there anything else the readers of Eater should know about the restaurant?
Tell the people to just give us the chance...to meet us, and try our food, our company, and our love.
· All Coverage of Antica Pesa [~ENY~]