Here's a sneak peek of Brigantessa, a restaurant and bar celebrating southern Italian cuisine and true Neapolitan pizza, from the chefs and owners of Le Virtu. For more on the food, check out our preview of the opening menu (which features far more than pizza). Starting tomorrow, October 14, they'll be officially open and reservations
should be live on OpenTable. UPDATED: Reservations are live now, with availability beginning October 20. This week, they're taking walk-ins only.
The main level is dominated by the tile-front bar, which seats ten and is overlooked by a portrait of the restaurant's namesake, Michelina di Cesare (or La Brigantessa), a leader in the 19th-century resistance movements that fought for southern Italy's autonomy. By the entrance, the bar also proudly displays Brigantessa's selection of salumi, with its attendant deli slicer and scale.
A handful of high-tops run parallel to the bar, while four prime seats are perched at a bar overlooking the pizza station. An upstairs dining room provides an additional 40-odd seats in what should prove to be a relatively cozier, quieter environment.
Tucked toward the back, the heart of the restaurant is the massive, imported Gianni Acunto wood-fired oven, sitting just in front of the kitchen (which also houses a custom wood-fired grill). Chef-owner Joe Cicala has by this point spent months getting acquainted with it: Following the initial curing process, he's been menu testing while mastering the particulars of fire and temperature management. He says the oven's shape — straight-sided rather than igloo-shaped — allows for superior heat circulation. (If you geek out over equipment, you might also want to check out Eater's longform feature on Neapolitan pizza ovens.)
Previously home to Karina's, the building was overhauled by the Passyunk Ave. Revitalization Corp. (aka P.A.R.C., who also own and built out Fond, Will, Noord, and others along the Avenue). The process faced significant delays, but the improvements are massive, and the space still retains a homey feel. Even underneath the restaurant, where one usually expects an air of mild terror, it feels like a pristine, suburban finished basement. That lower level is used for storage, as well as additional prep space for pastry and pasta.
The only things that seemed to be missing at our visit on Friday were a sign and some bottles to stock the shelves behind the bar. In addition to bottles, the bar will feature both beer and wine on tap. (While sibling Le Virtu made room last year for two keg wines, Brigantessa will offer six different wines on draft.)