Has any archetype been more commonly evoked in the restaurant business than grandmothers, nonnas, and other means by which to describe the person who gave birth to your parents? The third generation matriarch literally watches over your dining experience at Popina, a new Italian-American Southern-inspired restaurant that opened in the former Pok Pok Phat Thai space on the Columbia Street Waterfront. Wave to Franca, the Italian nonna making pasta in Bari, as you tuck into your own bowl of fettucine studded with guanciale, corn and jalapeno, with a dusting of pecorino cheese.
Chef Chris McDade—who cooked at Maialino and Café Altro Paradiso prior to opening this new venture with fellow Maialino alum James O'Brien—says he's been "very influenced by both Southern and Italian cuisine," calling out both cuisines for their simplicity and "amazing sense of place." Under that interpretation he created the above pasta in addition to arancini ($7) made with Carolina Gold Rice, a burrata dish ($16) with cornbread, and a "Hot Chicken Milanese" ($23), the pounded flat breast coated in hot chili oil.
Hot Chicken Milanese (Scott Heins/Gothamist)
While Franca holds court inside, the backyard area offers a more casual dining experience, with picnic benches and tables perched on gravel and pavers. There's an unofficial bocce court out there, too, either for killing time before a meal or perhaps helping to digest post pasta or chocolate chess pie, which comes with whipped cream and amarena cherries.
O'Brien's wine list skews Italian, with drop-ins by United States and French wine-makers. Cocktails ($12) stick close to the classics, like a Bottled Negroni; a Manhattan-adjacent option called Fancy Free with bourbon, maraschino and bitters; and the Honeysuckle made with tequila, lime, honey and jalapeno.
127 Columbia Street, 718-222-1901; popinanyc.com