Harlem’s Culinary Renaissance Is In Full Swing at Babbalucci

Harlem’s Culinary Renaissance Is In Full Swing at Babbalucci

It had been a few years since my mom last came to visit me in NYC. So, when she recently made the decision to spend Christmas with me in the Big Apple, I knew I had to plan a worthwhile adventure. For the most part, my mom is pretty easy to please. She had a few modest dining destinations in mind, but I wanted to treat her to a night out on the town.

With a little bit of research, I decided we should journey to Harlem to check out the uptown enclave’s ever-popular Lenox Avenue, recently dubbed Restaurant Row.

This wasn’t our first time in the area, one summer when I was home from college we made the trip from my childhood home in northeast Ohio to the big city for a shopping excursion. Our travels also included a stop at Harlem’s (arguably) most famous restaurant, Sylvia’s. Nearly 12 years later, to say that the area has changed would be an understatement. Sylvia’s fairly new Lenox Avenue neighbors boast an almost never-ending selection of international eats. From more hearty soul food and fresh sushi to savory Italian and Parisian delights.

On this particular Tuesday evening in late December, we opted for dinner at Babbalucci, a new kid on the historic block. Resting right across the street from Sylvia’s, the Italian eatery opened this past summer.

The cozy space comes complete with an inviting bar, soft lighting, polished wooden tables and exposed brick walls, which serve as the perfect backdrop for the vivid artwork that hangs in the space.

The restaurant is the brainchild of long-time Harlem residents Andrew LoPresto and Christy Phansond. The husband and wife team share a long history in the restaurant business. In their new space, Andrew serves as chef and owner while Christy has taken on the task of managing partner. Andrew’s father, Charles, also an industry vet, is a partner in the business.

This family seems to also treat their patrons as family, as it appeared everyone Christy encountered was greeted with the sort of hug given to an old friend. When we spoke later, she told me that they want the place to evoke a friendly neighborhood vibe. The restaurant also supports neighborhood artists and features a rotating selection of work in the space. I’ve been told this patronage will extend to musicians in the near future.

On the food front, when speaking with the chef, he told me that he wanted to create hearty cuisine that leaves you satisfied but not overly stuffed. I can say that was definitely the case when my mom and I sampled a few of the restaurant’s offerings.

Although the place is popular for its piping hot pizzas from the wood-burning oven (with the Thaitalian—a mix of mozzarella, tomato sauce, Italian sausage, garlic Thai basil and cherry peppers; and the Dear John, with mozzarella, tomato sauce, salame piccante and basil as standouts), we opted for knife-and-fork fare.

My mom selected the Grilled Romaine, a large portion of the leafy green dressed up with pancetta, parmigiana, croutons and anchovy dressing, which she described as flavorful and light with a satisfying smoky finish. When it came to the entrées, I opted for the short rib lasagna, a heaping helping of the Italian staple with tender chunks of short rib in the place of ground beef, while my mom selected the fussili, a mix of noodles, sausage, mushrooms and porcini cream with added crushed red pepper that packed plenty of punch.

We washed down the yummy fare with a few smart cocktails, including the Henny Dear Friend with Hennessy VS and St. Germain, topped with a black grape and basil garnish; The Gentlemen, with Forty Creek Whisky, a splash of espresso coffee and other delightful ingredients; and Woodford Reserve whiskey neat.  

My mom and I enjoyed the fare at this new uptown destination and the chance to partake in Harlem’s ever-evolving culinary renaissance.  

 

Comments

Thank you so much Christy and staff for the most enjoyable evening. I've already started planning for my next visit to your establishment because of the friendly atmosphere, great conversation, and cuisine garnished with blends of spices, noodles, and meats, which made my daughter and I thankful that we had leftovers for our midnight snack. The grilled Romain was magnificent !

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