Hero sandwiches, Schaefer by the can, and Billy Joel music. Not exactly what you’d expect from two classically trained cooks and Café Boulud alums. But that is what you’ll get when Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone open Torrisi Italian Specialties for morning coffee and counter-service lunch on Wednesday. The ambitious young chefs, whom their peer David Chang calls “two of the best cooks in New York,” met a decade ago at the CIA in Hyde Park, before embarking on lengthy stints with Mario Batali (in Carbone’s case) and Andrew Carmellini (in Torrisi’s). Trained in some of the city’s most demanding kitchens, the chefs found that they had more in common than a staunch work ethic and fine-dining pedigree. They shared a mutual passion for the iconic ethnic deli, and a perpetual craving for the comparatively lowbrow Italian-American food of their youth. Ultimately, remembrance of pastina past prevailed.
Jumping off their haute-cuisine trajectories, the partners found a geographically appropriate storefront on Mulberry Street — once used by the Feds to stake out the Ravenite Social Club across the street — and proceeded to expose original brick walls and install a vintage-looking tin ceiling and tile floor. The shelves are stocked with iconic Italian-American products like Stella D’Oro cookies and Cento canned tomatoes that function mainly as décor, and in the window, there’s American-made salumi, culled from places like Arthur Avenue’s Calabria Pork Store and Salumeria Biellese in Chelsea. The kitchen, in the best of assimilative-immigrant traditions, will channel Italian flavors with top-notch American products, but with a greater emphasis on vegetables, and an approach to portion-control more akin to the old country than Little Italy. The chefs’ insistence on going strictly domestic led to some great finds (corona beans from Idaho, California vinegar) and presented certain challenges: “We’re curing our own olives and anchovies,” says Torrisi, who, incidentally, swears by Progresso bread crumbs. “It’s one of those flavors you can’t emulate,” he says with a dreamy, Proustian look in his eye. The small opening menu includes house-baked cookies; classic heros, like potato-and-egg and chicken parm; an entrée or two, like meat lasagna; plus platters of antipasti like spicy broccoli rabe, and pepperoni and beans. Family-style dinner should launch by February.
250 Mulberry St., nr. Prince St.; 212-965-0955.