Beginning tonight, you have a new option for pizza on the Lower East Side. It’s opening night for Speedy Romeo, the Brooklyn-based restaurant branching out in Manhattan.
As they were making final preparations yesterday, co-owners Justin Bazdarich and Todd Feldman took a few minutes to talk with us about the new 50-seat spot at 63 Clinton St. They combined two former restaurants, Fatta Cuckoo and Cube Sushi, to make the space. The Clinton Hill original has been open for four years. People who go to Brooklyn tell us it’s often mobbed with devotees of the St. Louis-style wood-fired pies.
Bazdarich spent nine years as a chef in the Jean-Georges Vongerichten empire. Feldman’s background is in television and film. We began by discussing the overall mission in opening a second restaurant. “The thing we were most proud of in Brooklyn,” said Feldman,” is that it felt like an institution from day one… The neighborhood accepted us with open arms. We wanted to replicate that feeling in the Lower East Side, and just try to create an institution down here.”
When they were beginning renovations, the single-story commercial buildings across the street were being emptied for the luxury condo project now rising at 50 Clinton St. Above the shuttered restaurant, 1492, they noticed an old sign for “Rentas Liquors.” They were determined to get the sign from the developers for the new restaurant, which they finally succeeded in doing after dozens of emails, meetings with contractors and free pizza for the construction crews. It’s just one of the little touches, said Bazdarich, meant to give Speedy Romeo customers a sense that “the place has been there for awhile,” and that it’s part of the neighborhood.
The menus are similar in Manhattan and Brooklyn. But over here, there’s a new, LES-inspired pizza called “The Paul’s Boutique.” It’s both an homage to the Beastie Boys and to Katz’s Deli. The pie is made with the deli’s legendary pastrami, Dijon béchamel, smoked red kraut, fontina, and Thousand Island dressing. The other day, the guys took one over to Katz’s, where co-owner Jake Dell gave it his official seal of approval. The idea, Bazderich explained was to, “take a little bit of what’s already here, what’s made this neighborhood a success in the past, and let’s put our little twist on it and see if we can collaborate with a 100-year-old institution.”
Speedy Romeo is unusual in that the chefs do not cook with gas. There’s a wood-burning oven and a wood-burning stove, and nothing else. “I don’t have any choice but to be original,” said Bazdarich. He can’t borrow from recipes he’s used in previous kitchens. “We start a fire on the wood-burning grill in the morning and then” improvise. “We even cook our artichokes on top of the grill.”
Bazdarich and Feldman said they’re already big fans of Pig & Khao, their Clinton Street neighbor. They’re also excited by the new sandwich shop in-the-works from Dewy Dufresne. The conversation eventually turned to the difficulties many new and established restaurants face on Clinton Street due to a dearth of foot traffic and a somewhat out-of-the way location for visitors to the neighborhood.
Bazdarich has a big network of friends in Manhattan’s restaurant industry. He’s optimistic that they will find their way to the new outpost of Speedy Romeo. “I feel like we’ve built this” restaurant, he said, “for all of those people (in the industry) and for all the people on the island who don’t go to Brooklyn.” Bazdarich added, “We’d love our place to be a late night destination for chefs, bartenders, service people to just come and have a really good drink, have a pizza.”
For now, Speedy Romeo will operate from 5 p.m. to midnight. Eventually, they’re planning to extend hours until 2 a.m. Have a look at the menus below. As you’ll see, there are lots of options besides pizza, including a strip steak, a half-pound cheeseburger and a whole Branzino.