After opening what might be New York’s most idiosyncratic wine bar—Prospect Heights’ rustic Aliseo Osteria del Borgo—Albano Ballerini continues to remake burgeoning Vanderbilt Avenue in his own offbeat culinary image. Ballerini’s family has been in the food business since his grandmother opened a café in the Marche region of Italy, and in her honor, he’s transformed a Brooklyn slice joint into a boutique focacceria. Pizza chef Ruth Kaplan, an Aliseo customer and avid home cook whose puffy, free-form pies got her the Amorina gig, has a toppings repertoire that runs the gamut from classic (tomatoes and mozzarella) to creative (dried cherries, nutmeg, orange peel, and crème fraîche). Homey pastas like spaghetti and meatballs perfectly suit the cozy room, which has been outfitted with red-checked-cloth-covered tables, salvaged menu boards, and Ballerini’s grandmother’s yellowing invoices and receipts.
624 Vanderbilt Ave., nr. Prospect Pl., Prospect Heights, Brooklyn; 718-230-3030
A pair of Brooklyn caterers have taken their comfort-food menu public. Luscious Food, the latest addition to Park Slope’s Fifth Avenue food corridor, aims to sate the neighborhood’s bottomless appetite for gourmet takeout with three-cheese mac-and-cheese, pâté de campagne, and sandwiches constructed from upmarket ingredients like San Francisco’s Molinari salami and Royal Crown bread. Very limited seating makes the cheerful shop a good pit stop for grab-and-go breakfast, like “late for school” cinnamon-sugar-buttered toast, and to stock up on provisions like French cheeses and Italian meats.
59 Fifth Ave., nr. St. Marks Ave., Park Slope, Brooklyn; 718-398-5800
As chef at Le Zie and Le Zoccole, Roberto Passon popularized the Venetian-style tiered tapas called cicchetti and turned seemingly generic pastas like spaghetti-and-meatballs and macaroni-and-cheese into signature dishes. Newly ensconced in eponymous Hell’s Kitchen digs, where he’s joined the prolific team behind Puttanesca and Cara Mia, he’s composed an eclectic Italian menu that freely traverses the various regions and cooking styles of the Italian boot.
741 Ninth Ave., at 50th St.; 212-582-5599
It takes guts for a pizza chain to infiltrate the New York market, but Piola managed to sneak in under the pizza-police radar, wood-burning oven and all. The thin-crusted pies are the linchpin of a multinational empire that launched in Italy, flourished in South America, and spread to Greenwich Village via Miami Beach.
48 E. 12th St., nr. Broadway; 212-777-7781
Despite its name, Café Trotsky is no bastion of Soviet kitsch. In fact, with Meinl coffee from Austria and Sachertortes from Dumbo’s Almondine, it’s more like the Café Sabarsky of the Lower East Side. Owners Michael and Lily Idov vow to uphold certain immutable kaffeehaus traditions: Coffee is served on a silver tray with a glass of water. And, says Michael, “there’s a lot of schlag around.”
192 Orchard St., nr. Houston St.; 212-677-6381