After parting ways with Marlow & Sons and Diner earlier this summer, Caroline Fidanza was “excited about being unemployed.” Fidanza, who had spent the past decade as the executive chef at both Williamsburg restaurants, had unformed plans to open her own place; she wanted “ultimately, some ownership of something.” But the last thing she expected was to be so quickly seduced by the charms of a diminutive former bakery space on Metropolitan Avenue. In a matter of weeks, unemployment yielded to the countless demands of opening Saltie, the low-key lunch spot/bakery she’s preparing to open sometime in September with Elizabeth Schula and Rebecca Collerton, both of whom she worked with at Diner and Marlow.
“The idea was actually Rebecca’s,” Fidanza says. “I wasn’t thinking about it because it was a bakery and we’re not bakers. Though a small space didn’t seem worth their time, Rebecca started pushing. As soon as we looked at it we thought it was a great little space and had a lot of potential. We started to think about what we could do; between the three of us we have the talents to cover all the bases.”
Both the women’s backgrounds and Saltie’s size dictated what the space would eventually become. There’s no gas or room for a walk-in, and because there’s no place for a bathroom, Saltie won’t have a beer, wine, or liquor license. It’ll be a tight ship, a circumstance befitting its name, which is a term for an ocean-going vessel. “We’re kind of seafaring in our inspiration,” Fidanza explains.
Though all three women, Fidanza says, will miss working at night, Saltie’s daytime hours — tentatively from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. — do lessen a bit of the pressure inherent in opening a new restaurant. “Nobody’s going to come in and do a starred review; we just have to make lunch. We won’t be under the scrutiny we otherwise would be, but we want to make food of that class” — or, she says, “restaurant food in a convenient package.” That means “food we like to eat and make,” Fidanza says. “Really good sandwiches, ice cream, a nice morning pastry of some sort, and an afternoon pastry.”
Those pastries, she adds, are not going to make Saltie another stop on the cupcake circuit.
“The cupcake market is pretty saturated,” Fidanza says. “We don’t need more of that.” Instead, “we wanted to do baked goods more consistent with the food we like to eat, and make them a little more sophisticated,” Fidanza explains. That means pastries made with olive oil and whole grains that are neither savory nor super-sweet. “We’re sort of opening a bakery and none of us are big sugar eaters,” Fidanza muses, “so how do you adapt that?”
Elsewhere on the menu, which was being tested this week, expect to find “some sort of Italian-style cured meat sandwich,” Fidanza says. “That’s kind of a stand-by. We’re going to try to push the sandwich envelope a little bit — there will definitely be more things that we make, like meatballs. It’s not going to be deli-style.” Saltie’s sandwiches will be based on the kind made at Marlow & Sons, but will be more elaborate because they’ll be made to order. “At Marlow, they needed to have a certain amount of staying power; here, they’ll be a little more whimsical,” Fidanza explains. As for the ice cream flavors, she says, “our recipe for ice cream is to put booze or herbs in it. They’ll probably be straightforward flavors with an element of that. But nothing too weird.”