Photos by Kate and Michael Auda
Like some siblings do, a brainchild can come as a complete surprise.
Such was the case with Salvucci's, the new Italian sister to RMD Group's growing roster of venerable venues.
"We weren't ready to do another restaurant, but when this location [formerly Común] came along, we couldn't pass it up," says Mike Georgopoulos, the "M" in RMD Group, which also owns and operates FLUXX, Side Bar, Ciro's Pizzeria, Don Chido, Rustic Root and Pop's Liquor Cabinet. "And I've been dying to do Italian."
Georgopoulos' "dying" to do Italian stems from his having grown up in an Italian family in Watertown, Mass., a Boston suburb, where meals at Grandmother Carmella Salvucci Renzella's house were daily delights.
At Salvucci's, located by Petco Park at Ninth Avenue and J Street in East Village, the menu exudes rich flavors and rich family history. It's where recipes from generations of the clan (which first laid domestic roots when Loreto and Pasqua Salvucci emigrated to the U.S. from San Donato, Italy, in the 1930s) live on. And there's an on-site matriarch to make sure they do so.
To maintain his grandmother's culinary standards, Georgopoulos recruited the next logical choice: his mother, Darlene Renzella, who has joined the team as host, ensuring patrons receive a warm welcome from a loving Italian mother.
"Mom also makes sure the sauce is right," says Georgopoulos. "And the meatballs."
His uncles (Mom's brothers) Dave and Dan Renzella, who represent the "D" in RMD Group, are partners in the project, as is East Village hospitality honcho Ken Lovi, founder of the neighborhood's The Knotty Barrel Gastropub and co-owner of Don Chido and Rustic Root.
Plump packages of pleasure shaped from well-seasoned beef and pork and dressed with tomato sauce and Parmesan cheese, Salvucci's meatballs share table space with other East Coast Italian favorites. Standouts from the appetizer column include fried/breaded cheese ravioli in pomodoro sauce and hand-rolled gnocchi with fragrant pesto. Georgopoulos' fave entrée is the creamy polenta, which flows with either woodsy mushroom sauce or Bolognese ragu.
Other recipes harkening back to the homeland (in Boston and Italy) include pizzas, elegant pies built on Neapolitan-style crusts. The polpetta sposata, which sports such toppings as ricotta, mozzarella, basil and deluxe San Marzano tomato sauce, features a crowning glory: Salvucci's pride-of-place meatballs, arranged like juicy jewels.
"We're not chef-driven, we're food- and relationship-driven," says Georgopoulos. "So, if every night at Salvucci's feels like Sunday with the family, welcome home."
Derek DiNublia, a chef who cooked at several of celebrity chef Todd English's (host of Food Trip, on PBS) famed Boston-area eateries before heading west to join his longtime Bean Town buddy (Georgopoulos) at Side Bar, oversees the kitchen.
"We use the Salvucci family recipes to make the menu wonderful," says DiNublia. "We're all about from-scratch cooking, homemade breads, homemade pastas and made-from-scratch desserts."
So dig in. Mom's already expecting you to order seconds. Buon appetito!