STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Just as the coronavirus almost crushed the hopes and dreams of ambitious restaurateurs in the sit-down service arena, a Phoenix rises from the potential ashes of despair and quarantine’s temporary sense of hopelessness.
No, for real — the Phoenix is coming to West Brighton, a new bar with an open air format to take the place of Liberty Tavern Grill.
Owner Kevin Harrigan said the change will come in late July. He said there will be staff changes.
“The biggest change is having an executive chef,” said Harrigan. That guy will be Chef Mike Di Leo, formerly of Chef Mike’s Rodizio Grill and who will soon leave the Love Earth Bakery Cafe in Richmond Valley.
The Liberty tavern will be shut down for renovations leading into the grand reopening of 382 Forest Avenue.
“We’re putting garage doors on the front and back area leading into the deck. You’ll be able to see and walk through to seating outside,” said Harrigan. He added, “With the front and the back we’ll be the among the biggest outdoor dining areas in the area.” Total outside seats will be about 72. The new format will include delivery and takeout, disposable menus, QR codes for contactless menus and plastic cutlery.
Chef Mike certainly is excited. And just a quick recap on his Staten Island food journey thus far.
Mike became top toque at Richmond Valley’s Love Earth Cafe in November, 2019, and introduced vegan tacos and catering along an herbaceous tenor. You might remember the chef’s meat gig prior to that as he drove our appetites into a salivating, carnivorous tailspin with his eponymous all-you-can eat rodizio restaurant in Charleston that opened in 2017 and closed in September 2019.
In this new North Shore venture, Chef Mike plans for pub grub with a healthy spin and gluten-free options like rice balls, certain pastas and breads.
Vegan fare will include mac ‘n’ cheese and quinoa bowls.
There will be entrees such as a grilled ribeye and Asian lacquered strip steaks alongside grilled chicken Alfredo, sweet chili glazed pork and pineapple plus an eggplant-Napoleon stack.
Burgers will come with gourmet toppings such as Buffalo mozzarella, shishito peppers and crispy shallots with house-made honey-barbecue sauce. Considering the vegan background Chef Mike will offer “The Veggie Extreme” crafted from black beans, corn, peppers, garlic and brown rice on a multigrain roll.
Chef Mike fires up the kitchen in late July.
Joe Territo is no longer partner in the operation but is still principal with Harrigan at The Local.
SPENDING TIME WITH BRUNO AT THE BOULEVARD BAKERY
“It’s a great time to be alive,” said Biagio Settepani, owner of Bruno’s NYC Bakery in Dongan Hills and West Brighton. We chatted over a cup of coffee in the outdoor section of his Hylan-side restaurant Thursday morning.
The master pastry chef pondered the coronavirus crisis and determined that “less is more.”
“One of the things we’ve learned in this whole thing is appreciating the family, spending time with them in this whole thing,” said the chef. He pointed out that the clan works together in the bakery and therefore it seemed senseless to be apart during the quarantine stage. The packed days and evening at the business have always pulled him away from savoring time at home with the children and their growing families. The pandemic seemed like a good time to get comfy with la famiglia. The break was most welcome on many levels.
“That’s what people in Italy do. They open their places for a limited time of day. Look at the gelaterias [ice cream shops.] They enjoy life and come back the next year,” said Biagio.
It’s tempting — but he won’t keep the current hours when New York City world is allowed to roll into Phase 3 with limited indoor dining. Right now that would be Wednesday through Saturday from 8 a.m. through 8 p.m., Sundays 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Biagio kept the Dongan Hills location open through the whole course of events to be available to the community, get everyone through the holidays with their traditional treats.
The pandemic’s darkest days, in his opinion happened around March 12. That date earns the designation as it marks a time just after a wine dinner where most guests cancelled and the rest fretted in the restaurant on their cell phones. People were nervous about what was happening.
Biagio said, “I sensed that this was going to be a terrible time. But we’re all protective of each other. And we survived.”
His wish for fellow Staten Island proprietors was to carry on smartly and stay safe.
The discussion with Biagio took place as express busses clanked and zoomed in the background on Hylan Boulevard — a sight and sound missing for weeks during the pandemic. It serves as a reminder to pay attention to sights and sensations around us as there will come a time when pulling from such moments will back good memories…or maybe a chuckle.
The balmy morning and traffic reminded me of my second summer high school job — working for the late Anthony F.X. Finn, Esq, aka “Tony,” on the busy bus corner of Richmond Hill Road and Marsh Avenue. His bungalow stood in the midst of overgrown lots, a one-story building that is now surrounded by townhouses and the nearby Marsh School. It was a destination that often stank after stepping off the bus. I can liken the muffled garbage odor by the Mall at that time to that of the insides of a warmed up paper milk carton mingled with a briny funk, the latter probably from the Travis marshes at low tide.
One of my first assignments in (thankfully) Tony’s air conditioned offices was to book “Court Number Three” at something called the “Court of Appeals.” So I called Albany’s Court of Appeals. The lady who answered the phone in the 518 area code was befuddled.
“You can’t reserve a court!” she admonished.
As I later found out, Tony meant the sports club “Courts of Appeal,” formerly of Travis (a stone’s throw from the dump, by the way, to bring that up again) where he played racquetball with friends. Tony thought the mix up was the funniest thing. It was pretty silly.
I do appreciate the little quirks of growing up on Staten Island.
Pamela Silvestri is Advance Food Editor. She can be reached at email@example.com.