Salvatore Carlino inside Lucia Alimentari. Photo: Matthew Gordon

In 2017, Salvatore Carlino was living in Berlin, making techno, and running his own label, E-Missions. He’d grown up in Manhattan Beach, east of Coney Island, and was raised in the family pizzeria, Papa Leone’s, in nearby Sheepshead Bay. For a while, he’d thought he’d take it over and simply keep it running — “another 40 years” — but when his parents decided to retire, he took the leap across the Atlantic. There, a tight budget brought him back into cooking. “Typical starving-artist shit,” he says. When the pandemic hit, he had to leave Europe with a bunch of questions about what was next: “Music’s not making me a living, it’s not going to make me a living, and this industry that I was just starting to make a little bit of headway in just shut down overnight.”

Home in New York, he set up a pizza oven in his mom and dad’s backyard, making pizza for friends and neighbors before he started selling it out of his apartment, pop-up style. For a while, he was baking and making pizza “religiously” every other day, as he puts it. He started looking around for a permanent space in 2021. There was one caveat though: He couldn’t imagine opening something up in Southern Brooklyn. “I certainly never thought I would be back in Sheepshead Bay,” he says, “because the ego in me was like, If I’m going to do it, everybody’s got to fucking see it — and no one’s going to see it over here.”

But he didn’t have many other options: When he’d apply for leases, he’d be turned down and told he didn’t have the business experience or — more importantly — the income. When his friends found a space on Avenue X, he adjusted his stance. “I never thought it would go the way it did, and it did, and that was it. It was a perfect storm,” he says.

In January, 2022, he opened Lucia of Avenue X on the same block as a hair salon and a store called Amazing Discount. It’s a small corner space with a handful of seats, and the menu, to start, was limited to garlic knots and pizza. Carlino has broadened it a good bit since, with additions like chicken and eggplant Parmesans, weekend-only dry-aged burgers, calzones, and a bit of ’90s nostalgia via tartufo. His fears that nobody would see him in Sheepshead Bay turned out to be unfounded. A few weeks after it opened, my colleague Tammie Teclemariam described the “blistered, bubbly crust” as “some of the best” she’d ever had, and eventually called it 2022’s “restaurant most likely to become an institution.” New York Times critic Pete Wells followed, slapping a “NYT Critic’s Pick” on the shop.

Late last year, Carlino opened the second Lucia Pizza at the well-trafficked corner of West Broadway and Canal Street. The new shop is smaller with a more limited menu (no clam pie), but Carolino’s ambitions in Manhattan are bigger. This week he’ll open Lucia Alimentari, an 18-seat foray into something a little fancier.

“There were a lot of thoughts of, Are we going a little too nuts? Should we just white box it, add tables for the pizzeria?” he says. He worried about disappointing people, but about two months ago he and his business partner in Soho, Richie Quarto, decided they had to go for the big swing. “I fucking hate opening,” he says. “I’m just going to keep my fucking head pinned to this plate and just keep going, keep working.”

Though the space shares a pass-through window with the pizzeria, the look is less slice shop, more social club, with a Calacatta Rosa marble bar at its center. The green of the subway tile on one wall matches the banquets, and the wood is all walnut, from the tables to the rafters. From 7 a.m to 4 p.m., it’ll operate as a cafe, and there are products like Partanna olive oil, Rummo pasta, and Agostina Recca anchovies stocked on shelves. Standing outside, Carlino nods to a couple customers sitting against the pizzeria’s windows while eating their slices. “I love that,” he says. “But we’re going to let people bring their slices over here, too.”

Photo: Matthew Gordon

It’s a small space, so to make it work as both café and restaurant, Carlino had a couple wall-mounted Murphy tables installed. Dough production will stop at night, so they can make full use of the kitchen for the Alimentari. Some ideas are still being hashed out. He’s thinking of getting a meat slicer, so he can serve ribboned Colonnata lard. The menu will be limited, a bit, by practical concerns. (The only oven they have is an electric PizzaMaster.) There will be 12-inch personal pizzas like the Poblano Funghi (roasted poblano crema, braised mushrooms), and the Backyard (fresh mozzarella, shredded mozzarella, pecorino, red sauce, olive oil). Oysters will be shucked on the weekends, and he’ll have a octopus carpaccio with Calabrian chile and yuzu, a couple salads, and some snacks. There could be something roasted down the line. “Let’s see how loony it could get,” he says.

Carlino has help, too. Wine will be handled by John Edward Burch, a sommelier at Daniel who is helping out downtown. (He’ll run an industry night on Mondays.) Carlino’s cousin Calogero Taibi is coming over at least for a few weeks from Castrofilippo, the small Sicilian town where he lives, to help with the baking. He’ll be making the Taibi family cannoli, which Carlino swears are the best he’s ever had: “The ricotta is sheep’s milk. It’s real deal. It comes in these beautiful vats that I can sit there with a fork and eat,” he says.

Things are otherwise up in the air, but they’ve talked Sicilian pistachio desserts and tarts. Along with Taibi’s pastries, Carlino plans to bring in different bakers for three-month stints for which, he says, they’ll share in the revenues. The first is Marisa Akemi Nakamura, who has done a bunch of pop-ups with downtown favorite Shy’s Burgers. (She’s also cooked at spaces like Treetop and Laobra Café, and prior to going indie she was the lead baker at the Smile To Go.) At Lucia, she’ll make croissants and cookies by day and has floated ideas like a cannoli brûlée for dinner.

“I’ve never had the chance to own anything like this, and I’m going to be chef-ing it up,” Carlino says. “I’m going to be the guy who’s doing all the plates at night.”

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