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Status: Open tonight at 5 p.m.
If it feels like you've been waiting since July for Brigantessa to open, well, you have — but as of tonight, the new restaurant and bar from the Le Virtu team is finally fully open. They're starting out taking walk-ins only for the first week, but reservations are live on OpenTable with availability beginning on October 20.
Le Virtu owners Cathy Lee and Francis Cratil-Cretarola partnered with chef Joe Cicala to launch this second restaurant, with pastry chef Angela Ranalli now handling dessert for both restaurants. Rather than pulling talent from his Le Virtu team, Cicala told us that he hired for Brigantessa from scratch, so the vets at the existing restaurant could keep it running smoothly. Eventually, he'll split his time more evenly between the two. (Luckily, the two locations are only separated by a few blocks.)
While their first restaurant focuses solely on upholding Abruzzese tradition, Brigantessa is a casual space pulling influence from all over southern Italy, covering the regions of Abruzzo, Basilicata, Campania, Calabria, Puglia, Molise, and Sicily. A wood-fired pizza oven, handmade near Naples, is central to the concept.
You'll find more details on the food (including a copy of the menu) here. Behind the bar, there are a handful of rarely seen Italian beers on tap, as well as a good selection of non-imports. Five wines are available on draft as well, in addition to a bottle list leaning heavily, of course, on southern Italian wines. The cocktail list is right here.
As we've mentioned before, Brigantessa is seeking AVPN (Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana) certification, which would be a first for Philadelphia. The designation is somewhat controversial, as with many food labels, it tends to get tossed around as a marketing tool while not really speaking to the quality of the specific product. (Despite the standardization inherent to the process, there are mediocre VPN pies and stellar non-VPN pies. And sometimes there are fake VPN pies, but that's another story entirely.)
Cicala readily acknowledges all of that himself, and the reason to get excited for Brigantessa is for the experience, skill, and devotion being put into the project, not just a certificate. But for the curious, here's how it works:
Cicala is already an AVPN-certified pizzaiolo, having completed an intensive 10-day course in Naples (and being detained by Italian cops while he was at it), but there is an additional step to be completed before Brigantessa's product is certified. That involves Cicala providing the pizza authorities with a video of their kitchen, ingredients, and process, then awaiting approval. While the timing of that will ultimately hang on how much red tape it gets caught up in, Cicala says it won't likely be before December.