Last Friday night, Staten Island-born chef Albert Di Meglio opened Barano on Williamsburg's Southside, inside a decade-old condo on Broadway near Kent Avenue. It's the chef's first solo venture after stints in the kitchens of Le Cirque, Osteria Del Circo and, most recently, Rubirosa, sibling of SI's famed Joe & Pat's Pizzeria. Lured by the promise of fresh-pulled mozzarella and wood-fired pizzas, I gathered a group of Staten Island friends to join me for an opening night meal at Di Meglio's new restaurant.
"This isn't the kind of stuff people eat on Staten Island," one of them laughed at the meal's completion.
That's not to say there aren't spots to get freshly made Italian foods in Shaolin, but I knew what he meant. In a borough that favors its Italian-American heritage, a dish of Octopus al Piastra ($17), enthusiastically flavored with pickled radish and mint pesto, would be something of an anomaly. Same with a Spit-Roasted Lamb Leg ($26), with Northern African influences like golden raisins and roasted carrots and the Italian staple pine nuts. Those dishes were the highlights of our meal and a delicious flex of Di Meglio's culinary muscles.
For this venture, Di Meglio's focusing on southern Italian flavors and ingredients, like Neapolitan-esque pizzas, whose crusts a server told us were a mixture of durham and semolina flours with a wild yeast. They're highly flavorful, even when competing with salty pancetta on the Bosciaola ($18), which also comes topped with mushrooms, mozzarella and pecorino. In a unique—and, honestly, somewhat impractical—twist, diners are given fancy shears to cut their own slices, a difficult task on the metal grates each pie is perched atop.
Di Meglio—who still lives on Staten Island with his family—also embraces his red sauce roots, offering Meatballs ($14) and an Eggplant Parmigiana ($12), where the nightshade vegetable is roasted (instead of fried) and topped with tomato, mozzarella, basil and parm. "Growing up on Staten Island, life was about food. In my family, you're happy you eat, you're sad you eat, you're angry you eat," Di Meglio explains. "My grandmother was always cooking something. We didn't do anything without food. Sundays was always a banquet in my house, 25 people coming over eating artichokes, eating meatballs."
Another menu item, Bucatini with Rabbit alla Ischitana ($17), also speaks to the chef's childhood. "Every year I would get a pet rabbit, and every year right before Easter it would run away. Every Easter we would eat this awesome 'chicken' dish," he recalls. "Little did I know... this annual 'tradition' inspired the Rabbit all Ischitana we have on the menu at Barano."
26 Broadway in South Williamsburg, 347-987-4500; baranobk.com