When restaurateur Paul Shaked and noted chef Adam Leonti teamed up to open Sofia’s Panificio e Vino in Little Italy, the world looked very different. At the time, the neighborhood was bustling with tourists, sidewalk diners, and to-go boxes from nearby Lombardi’s Pizza. It seemed like the perfect place to open Sofia’s, a revamped version of Sofia’s of Little Italy, a 15-year-old Italian-American spot owned by Shaked’s father.
But obviously, those plans have changed.
Sofia’s was scheduled to debut this week at 143 Mulberry Street, between Grand and Hester Streets, but as the coronavirus pandemic worsened in New York City and elsewhere, Leonti realized that Sofia’s would not be opening — at least not as planned.
As the situation intensified, however, Leonti and Shaked eventually had to put the restaurant’s dine-in menu — a mix of upscale and homey Italian dishes closer to what diners saw at the chef’s now-closed restaurant Leonti — on hold. Instead, the duo started from the ground up, assembling a list of dishes that could be adapted for delivery service, if needed.
The result of their efforts is a slimmed down menu consisting mostly of popular Italian dishes — like cacio e pepe and ricotta ravioli — but also dishes that Leonti thought he would continue to have access to throughout the pandemic.
“Every time we call vendors,” he says, “the range of available ingredients is more and more limited. But things like spaghetti, tomatoes, flour, and olive oil? Those aren’t going anywhere.” On Sofia’s delivery menu, dishes like tagliatelle ai funghi are made from dried porcini mushrooms, which have lengthy expiration dates, while the ingredients for spaghetti al pomodora are readily available and can be purchased in bulk.
Housemade breads, doughs, and pizzas also form a cornerstone of the menu, in part because of the ease with which flour can be acquired but mainly because they’re what Leonti does best. At his well-received eponymous restaurant on the Upper West Side, Leonti was known for his loving use of grains.
Leonti’s best known as a fine dining chef for Italian cuisine; before his last restaurant, he worked in the kitchen at Philadelphia’s acclaimed Verti Cucina, where he shot to regional fame and was named an Eater Young Gun.
Originally, the idea at Sofia’s was to open up the front of the restaurant as a panifficio, or Italian bakery, with a rotating selection of daily breads like sesame-coated sourdough and pizza bianca. Those plans may be on hold for now, but Leonti has still been loading loaves into his messenger bag after work and hand-delivering them throughout the neighborhood.
Dishes and wines are sold at retail “without much markup,” Leonti says, a move in hopes of being part of the community. The full menu, with prices, is below. The restaurant also plans to sell cured vegetables, jars of marinara sauce, and ravioli for people to store at home.
But the chef hasn’t ignored his past in luxe restaurants, either: There are several “splurges” to Sofia’s online menu, the types of dishes intended to turn “another night in quarantine” into something memorable, he says. Expect rib-eye steak, octopus, and four-hour bolognese lasagna.
Sofia’s is now available for delivery on Tuesdays through Sundays, from 12 p.m. to 9 p.m.