An alum of daytime darling Court Street Grocers has unleashed a daytime restaurant of her own called Rita, now open in Red Hook.
Chef Mary Ellen Amato left her role as executive chef of Court Street to pursue the solo project, which currently serves breakfast and lunch at 293 Van Brunt St., near Pioneer Street.
Amato — who has experience at places like Court Street and now-closed Williamsburg sandwich shop Saltie — is focusing on a light daytime menu with slight Spanish influences. Expect grilled cheese with tomato conserva, a chicken soup with caramelized squash and ancho chile, and an egg sandwich with goat cheese made in-house plus an option to add anchovies.
Eventually, Amato plans to turn it into an all-day affair with natural wines and Spanish-inspired small plates at dinner after she gets a liquor license. The nighttime menu will amp up the Spanish edge, particularly with seafood dishes.
Drinks include coffee from Ninth Street Espresso and, as Amato puts it, “frou-frou-y, new-Agey stuff,” like a drink with roasted dandelion, chicory roots, ashwagandha, coconut oil, oat milk, and honey. Called “decaf,” the drink is intended to “stabilize your energy levels,” she says. “We’re trying to make the menu accessible no matter what people are doing for their diets,” she says.
Bright, all-day cafes are all the rage in New York right now, and Amato says her love for neighborhood cafes in Spain motivated her take on the genre. Red Hook and its “small town feel” in particular drew her to open Rita, she says. The white-colored restaurant seats 25 inside and will also have about the same number of seats outside in warmer weather.
“It’s a gathering place to an extent,” she says. “We’re kind of in the heart of Red Hook. Just being a place that’s open and available to everyone is important to me.”
Rita is now open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday with counter-service dining. Stay tuned for a more formal table service-style dinner in the spring or summer.