The Upper West Side is getting a taste of Slovenia in the form of Pekarna, an ambitious bi-level restaurant opening this week for indoor dining. Owner Dean O’Neill aims to showcase a blend of Slovenian-American foods in a sprawling space that unfolds across two buildings at 592 and 594 Amsterdam Avenue, at the corner of West 89th Street.
The venue is situated across 6,500 square feet covering two floors that O’Neill eventually envisions as an entertainment complex unlike any other restaurants on the Upper West Side. It’ll have four private and public event spaces on the lower level for private parties, screenings, weddings, book launches, and more. The upper level evokes more of an “old New York world,” O’Neill says, with cozy, intimate seating surrounded by exposed brick and two separate bars.
For the opening tomorrow, however, only about 32 people can be seated in the restaurant — at full capacity, there are 320 seats.
O’Neill, who has a background in architectural and interior design, made a point to re-surface and showcase some of the building’s 100-plus year history within the restaurant, including a preserved display of the building’s original dumbwaiter. The name of the restaurant, Pekarna, which means bakery in Slovenian, is a nod to the four ovens that O’Neill found built into the building’s foundations, a holdover from when the structure was originally a bakery prior to modern-day renovations.
The menu, helmed by executive chef Kamal Hoyte, formerly of NYC hotspots including Daniel and Oceana, ties together Slovenian and classic New York food influences in dishes like the truffle matzo ball soup ($19), packed with roasted chicken thigh, chicken consommé, and truffle matzo balls; a sautéed cauliflower dish ($17) with sesame seeds, golden raisins, Calabrian chilies, scallions, and almond sauce; and a salmon main course ($34) served with its crispy skin, roasted fingerling potatoes, a corn pepper succotash, and a lemon dill beurre blanc. Desserts include a Slovenian take on an apple pie ($12) that comes in the form of a baked apple roll paired with a vanilla gelato.
Acclaimed Slovenian chef Alma Rekić, known for her appearances as a top judge on MasterChef Slovenia, is also involved in the project. O’Neill tapped Rekić to consult on both the dinner and desserts menus to help develop the Slovenian aspects of the food.
Over 20 cocktails are listed on the extensive opening drinks menu — put together by O’Neill — alongside a long list of liquors, wines, and beers for purchase. Among the cocktails, Rags to Riches features bourbon mixed with raspberry liqueur, limoncello, black rose liqueur, and egg white; while the Bramble ($17), a gin-based cocktail featuring blackberry liqueur, is a must-dry drink, O’Neill says. Separate brunch and takeout food menus are available, and all of the cocktails are also sold for takeout.
The project, which was originally slated to open weeks before the pandemic hit NYC, is pushing forward despite many obstacles due to the coronavirus crisis. On Pekarna’s official opening day on December 8, only the second floor will be available to diners as O’Neill is still waiting on city permits to be able to use the first floor. The restaurant is also pushing forward without access to gas yet. O’Neill’s team is purchasing some prepared foods from purveyors to be able to serve diners while waiting for FDNY permit approval for gas usage, which he estimates will take another four to eight weeks.
And then there’s the possibility that indoor dining might be banned for a second time in NYC, rendering the 6,500-square-foot space empty for now. O’Neill plans to use a backyard garden for outdoor dining but says he’s awaiting permits for the restaurant’s first floor to clear before that can happen. For now, he is bracing for a move to takeout and delivery-only until restrictions lift again.
“We have to just hang in here,” O’Neill says of opening the restaurant while regulations are seemingly shifting week by week. “I know that this place is going to be amazing.”
Pekarna is open for limited capacity indoor dining from Monday to Sunday, 4 to 10 p.m. Brunch is available all day on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. (The restaurant will be open until 12 a.m. nightly once curfew restrictions lift.) Takeout and delivery options will follow later this week.