Fresh off a win for best chefs in NYC from this year’s James Beard Awards, Via Carota chefs Rita Sodi and Jody Williams are now planning an American restaurant in the West Village. It will be their third restaurant in the neighborhood together after Tuscan-style trattoria Via Carota and the impending coffee- and aperitivo-focused Bar Pisellino, set to open late next week.
The revered chefs have just signed a lease for 50 Commerce St., between Barrow and Bedford streets, the former home of Commerce. It’s a new direction for the star chef team, which has become known for their straightforward and on-point Italian cooking. (Williams also runs Buvette, and Sodi also runs I Sodi, both just as well-liked.)
Here, the duo drew inspiration from the ideals of the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing — a religious sect more commonly known as Shakers — that prizes simplicity, utility, and honesty. (The pacifist and celibate sect, one of the oldest Christian ones in existence, has just two living, active members.) Williams and Sodi say it’s not about religion, though, and more about the philosophy.
“It’s sort of old cooking out of vintage cookbooks from 1870 that were in my family. They grow herbs and fresh fruit,” Williams says. “It’s heirloom American cuisine in a nice tavern sense.”
Look-wise, the Shakers are known for their minimalist but well-made and high-quality wood furniture, which will infuse the 75-seat space. Williams and Sodi are currently in the design phase, looking at old design books and working with an architect. They anticipate it being a slow process, especially with everything they have going on right now — but the space was available, so they scooped it up.
“You gotta seize the opportunity! We love the bigger process. It wouldn’t be fun if Rita and I were just in the kitchen cooking and cleaning, cooking and cleaning,” Williams says. “That’s the heart and soul; that’s where we belong. But if you go out to the farm, and talk to the cheesemaker, and taste wine, the job of a chef is so much more brilliant.”
It’s a busy time for Sodi and Williams, who late next week will open the highly anticipated Bar Pisellino, a stand-up-style Italian cafe with coffee, cocktails, and snacks. Stay tuned for photos of that space soon.
They also say that Via Carota, which has been open since November 2014, was busier than ever this past week with the James Beard Award win.
“We’re humbled and honored,” Williams says. “I feel like, wow, we have to do better.”