On The Menu
YOUNGSTOWN – Prima Cucina Italiana will become the newest entry in the downtown dining scene when it opens Monday, June 29, after months of renovation and preparation.
According to chef-operator Josh Santangelo, the restaurant at 103 W. Federal St. will feature regional cooking from all over Italy with an emphasis on the cooking of Rome. “It will be Italy Italian food as opposed to American Italian,” he said.
Prima is in the rectangular space formerly occupied by Roberto’s Ristorante, an old-school Italian establishment.
While it retains the charm of its former identity, Prima has a simpler and more elegant décor. Paintings line the walls and white-tableclothed tables run the length of the room.
To meet coronavirus regulations, acrylic glass dividers separate each table.
The 13-seat bar remains in the front of the house, and has been given a new cherrywood top.
The restaurant also has room for 10 diners on its patio; plans call for installing an awning over it.
There is additional space downstairs for dining or as a rental space for parties. The lower level has a capacity of 40.
The main dining room and bar can seat 50. Santangelo described its atmosphere.
“We’ve lightened it up,” he said. “It has lighter colors, and the lighting is more even.”
The room is narrow but the streamlined décor gives it an airy appeal.
Prima will feature Italian cocktails and a wine list that mirrors its cuisine.
“The wine list is 80 percent Italian and 20 percent California,” Santangelo said, “and the California wines are Italian- or European-inspired, Cabernets and Zinfandels.”
Diners could also possibly find a new favorite.
“We will have a lot of obscure wines that we want to introduce people to from every region of Italy, and every varietal, plus the classic stuff that people here like,” Santangelo said. “This is a red wine town and we’ll have some big Cabernets.”
The restaurant, which will employ 15 to start, will be open from 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; and 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
In about a month, it will also be open Sunday for brunch and an Italian-style family supper.
“There will be a la carte items for brunch, and a family style dinner with rigatoni and a bunch of meats braised in sauce, ribs, meatballs and sausage, with a big salad and bread,” Santangelo said.
The chef started his career as a teenager, when he became a cook at his great-uncle’s restaurant, Alberini’s in Niles, and later moved on to front of house management.
He moved to the Palm Beach, Fla., area where he operated a restaurant. Santangelo moved to New York at age 24, where he attended the French Culinary Institute.
Prima will be the first of three restaurants that will open downtown this year; the others are Tequila Coyote and Gringo’s Tacos and Tequila.
It’s also part of a movement that is bringing finer dining establishments to the city center. Santangelo wants to diversify and improve the area’s dining scene by introducing elements found in larger cities.
“The plan is for people like me to move back here and bring what we learned out in the world, to bring in better and better restaurants, and better everything, to keep building on what has been started,” he said.
The ownership team also includes Atty. Gregg Rossi and FC Real Estate LLC (Tim Huber and Larry Petrozzi).
As for opening in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, Santangelo said he has taken every precaution, and believes people are ready to start venturing out.
“We’re going to open and see what happens,” he said. “There’s nothing else we can do. We already spent the money. Luckily we didn’t open [sooner] and then have to close.”
To ensure the safety of diners and staff, an infrared thermometer will be used to take the temperature of everyone who enters. The restaurant has already been sanitized and steamed, and Santangelo said it will likely be done again soon.
“It’s just the cost of doing business right now,” he said.
Posted June 27, 2020.
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