In a sign that Collingswood truly might be Philadelphia’s newest food annex, chef Joey Baldino–a long-time protégé of Marc Vetri and a man whose resume, at 33, makes the rest of us look like we wasted the first three decades of our lives doing little more than scratching our nuts–is scheduled to open his Sicilian BYOB, Zeppoli, across Mr. Franklin’s bridge sometime next week.
Owning a restaurant has been a life-long goal for Baldino, who grew up in South Philly and spent the aughts as sous and chef de cuisine at Vetri and Osteria. The man has traversed the city (and the world) to work for chefs as enviable as Georges Perrier, Jose Garces, Michael Solomonov, Alice Waters and Daniel Boulud. He spent time in Sicily with Anna Tasca Lanza. Oh, and also picked up a degree from the French Culinary Institute.
Zeppoli’s menu will center around classic Italian dishes–the kind that get transformed into classic Sicilian dishes after kicking around the Med for a few generations and soaking up influences from their neighbors. Like his Italian mom and nonna before him, Baldino will dive deep into the sea to fish out the starring players for many of his plates: Gamberetti e Fagioli, (shrimp sautéed with garlic, parsley, lemon and chili poured over cannellini beans) and Sicilian Fisherman Stew (seafood stew with saffron and Moroccan couscous) among them. For ambiance, he’s salvaged the wooden tables where your own nonna sat when she dined at Dante and Luigi’s in the 1930’s and surrounded them with vintage photographs he bought from some “little old guy” during his last trip to Sicily.
When it opens, the 35-seater will take over the old IndeBlue space at 618 Collings Avenue–whose owners took over the old Blackbird Dining Establishment space, which took over half of West Side Gravy’s space… And so the dominoes game of Collingswood restaurant real estate started last year by Alex Capasso ends.
Which is all very nice and all. Yet one question lingers: New Jersey? Really?
“Collingswood is cool and definitely an up-and-coming place,” says Baldino who, regardless, has no plans to give up his 215 area code. “And I like the neighborhood.”
Not only that, but despite three years spent searching, Baldino swears he could never find “the right spot” in Philadelphia.
Zeppoli restaurant [Official website]