When Carlo Pellegrini and his wife Jessica Morse’s restaurant, Pellegrini Ristorante Italiano Bar, was partially destroyed by fire early on March 30, 2019, little did they know it would take almost three and a half years to reopen for the having dinner. Company.
Apparently the remnants of a campfire jumped on an umbrella outside the Cottonwood Square restaurant. The flames went through the roof of the building at the front of the house and caused smoke damage throughout the facility.
What initially seemed like an easy fix, with the hope of fixing the interior, replacing the roof and getting back to business within five months, also went up in smoke thanks to wrangling with the insurance company, a global pandemic, inflation and a shortage of workers. .
But in September, the renovated and revamped restaurant – newly created Pellegrini Cucina Italiana – reopened with an Italian market concept. The space is refreshing and white-walled, reflecting the coastal region of Puglia where Pellegrini grew up and learned to cook from family recipes.
“That look is what the restaurants look like where I come from,” Pellegrini said, also noting that Morse’s design work channeled an idea of what you might feel when exploring a street market. from southern Italy.
Aged wooden trellises suspended from the ceilings are adorned with dried sheaves of wheat and tomato vines bursting with decorative fruit. Copper pans are on order and will soon find their way into farm decor.
Casual seaside wooden tables with cross-backed chairs and wooden benches with cushions have replaced the old Baroque-style chairs and leather booths. Small decorative elements, like a replica of an antique lock and key on the wine shelves, add a vintage touch, as does the fireplace, which is surrounded by rustic white stones reminiscent of cobbled streets.
But there are also touches of modernity: the bench that borders part of one of the dining rooms is equipped with USB charging sockets. The setup encourages customers to linger over a glass of wine or an espresso.
Even still, there are hints of the old Pellegrini — and cycling even further, of Potato Brumbaugh’s, a steakhouse named after a character in James Michner’s book Centennial, a fictional story based in northern Colorado.
The heavy beams, still a unique feature of the building, were damaged by the smoke, but their structural integrity remained intact.
“The craftsmen who worked on them sanded them down, applied white paint, then sanded some more,” Pellegrini said, describing the process that allowed the wood to be reused.
He also restored other architectural features such as the mullioned windows in the rear dining room. Now, glass adorns the dividers between dining nooks, giving the space an airy and inviting look.
The fire-damaged roof tiles that were less charred were drilled with gradually diminishing rows of holes and were installed as appliques in the dining rooms.
In a sense, the building rises from its ashes, its spaces reinvented and repurposed. In this, Pellegrini draws lessons from the Old World: do not throw away any building material because it could one day become art.
He also developed a new business model. When customers walk through the door, they are greeted by a quick and relaxed counter where they can order their meal and choose a table from a small seating area or take out food. Customers can order wine or beer with their meals to eat in or they can be packaged to take away.
“This concept allows you to be more free and that’s how you survive,” Pellegrini said. “If you go to a restaurant today, 99% are understaffed. The servers are overwhelmed and behind on their tickets and you have to wait longer for your food. That way, after ordering, you can sit down, have your wine or beer, and get your own water or soda at a self-serve station. The waiters bring your food and when you’re done you just leave because you’ve already paid.
If you want to stay (and order dessert – which you should do as the selections are divine) the staff will watch you.
With the revised service flow, the system tallies tips and automatically splits them between front and back of the house.
Next month, Pellegrini will add self-serve beer and pre-mixed cocktails on a tap system. There’s no bartender: Guests are given a wristband that connects to their credit card which is charged when they use the drink system.
Operations are very efficient at the moment. Since the restaurant is run with a total of five people (including Pellegrini in the kitchen), hours are limited to evening meal service.
Once he can hire more staff, he will add lunch service, and eventually a section of the dining room will include an intimate, reservations-only dining room limited to 50 people. It will offer a more extensive menu and Pellegrini plans to add high-end, quality products that will allow it to showcase its culinary talents.
Although the division of labor has been streamlined, the quality of food has not changed. Everything on the menu is made from scratch — as it always has been, even during the pandemic days when Pellegrini and his family were subsisting on catering and takeout. Pasta is freshly made on site and is packaged and ready to serve in glass-fronted coolers at the entrance.
The rest of the market style concept is ongoing with the addition of foodstuffs. But the 6-pound cans of Alta Cucina tomatoes that line the shelves behind the counter aren’t for sale. Pellegrini notes that plum tomatoes are so delicious you can eat them canned with a spoon, but he uses them daily to make the restaurant’s tomato sauce.
If you missed fresh pasta and homemade sauces like Bolonese, (Italian meat sauce with tagliatelle), Gamberi in salsa rosa (paccheri pasta with prawns and tomato-basil marinara) or Fiori di Zucca (fried zucchini flowers stuffed with fresh mozzarella) that won’t get soggy in the take-out box by the time you get home, all of this and more awaits you.
Back to Dine-In at Pellegrini Cucina Italiana
Hours: 4 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday to Saturday
Where: 2400 17th Street, Greeley
Other info: Delivery via NoCo Nosh | Catering | Take-out meals | Italian market