First Look: Brigantessa
The people of East Passyunk must have a boundless appetite for pizza, because despite the proximity of Slice, Santucci’s, Marra’s, and Francoluigi’s (and I’m sure you’ll let me know if I’m forgetting somebody…), opening night at Brigantessa yesterday was bumping. Cocktails were flowing, as were wines on tap and by the carafe, and the high-tops and bar seats were loaded. But the warm dining room upstairs will ensure plenty of space for Passyunk’s pizza lovers as the restaurant hits its stride.
When you go for a visit, start your meal with a few snacks – sputini – spooned up from ceramic dishes at the bar and served room temperature: sausage-stuffed long hots roasted in the wood oven, braised artichoke hearts, or a guinea hen terrine studded with pistachios and chestnuts and served with sweet cherry mostarda. These little bites play nicely with Brigantessa’s selection of their own cured meats as well as a 24-month aged Prosciutto di Parma and 1732 Meats’ pancetta and guanciale.
Antipasti are equally as appealing, including familiar flavors like those found in calamari al forno, stuffed with garlic, parsley, and breadcrumbs. There’s also pizza fritta – a last-minute menu addition – deep fried pockets of semolina dough filled with herbed sheep’s milk ricotta and served with bagna cauda, a hot, anchovy-scented bath. Clearly, there’s as much inspiration to be found in the restaurant’s wood-fired grill as in the pizza oven; grilled romanesco cauliflower with fried caper berries and a funky, chili spiced vinaigrette of neonate di sardelle (that’s baby eels to you), and brief selection of secondi including wood-grilled lamb sirloin, smoked quail, and whole roasted fish.
Even so, it’ll be tough to get past the pizza section of the menu. Naturally, there are classics like Marinara and Margherita, or the piquant Calabrese with house-made n’duja, roasted peppers, ricotta and chili oil. A couple of standouts? Pizza vongole veraci, real clam pizza, no clam strips in sight. Expect this one scattered with clams in their shells, as well as all the flavors to accompany vongole-anything: garlic, chili, white wine, parsley, and olive oil. Another standout is the pizza Rachetta. Named for it’s shape, this pizza “racket” is a two-fer. Two thirds pizza, one third calzone, the pizza portion sauced with tomato and studded with melty chunks of fried eggplant, the “handle” filled with sheep’s milk ricotta.
We’ll have to plan another trip to tackle the pasta. But in the meantime, here’s a look at the new digs and some of the food.