It’s been 15 years since Amnon Kehati, Sam Erlich, and Avi Camchi first opened Thalia in Hell’s Kitchen, putting down new American roots in a rapidly changing neighborhood that was then bereft of good dining options. The territorial gamble paid off — Thalia became a neighborhood joint, a rising boat in the tide that soon swelled and lifted the area, and the owners were able to pursue more openings in the city, like MarkBurger down on St. Mark’s.
Now, the trio is returning to Hell’s Kitchen with Annabel (809 Ninth Avenue, 212-245-2215), a pizzeria that’ll also turn out a sizable list of entrees and a board of craft beer.
“We’re comfortable with the neighborhood, which is why we picked the location,” says marketing director Helah Kehati (who is also Amnon’s daughter).
And the team was also drawn to the development prospects on Ninth Avenue, which hadn’t yet seen the same rush of new concepts when the partners first began construction a few years ago: “An old hardware store became available on Ninth Avenue, so we decided to undertake project. We bought the building, took it down, and put up a six-floor building with apartments and a restaurant on the ground floor,” says Helah.
Those apartments have been occupied for awhile, but the restaurant build-out is just concluding. “It’s meant to feel comfortable and local and not be a pretentious establishment,” says Helah. “Pizza places get a little snotty about what they’re making — we wanted to create a place where tourists and locals could squeeze into a banquette and stay for awhile. We wanted to be part of the neighborhood. That’s the most important part for us.”
Helah’s younger brother is a metalworker, and he built a number of the pieces in the space, including the bar, the light fixtures, and a rotating wine rack that’s behind the bar. Half of the wood that lines the walls came from an old downtown watertower. “We love being able to preserve that resource,” Helah says. “The city regenerates itself in that way.”
As for the food, the partners are relying on their executive chef from Thalia, Manuel Honrado, to oversee a menu of pizzas plus a list of seasonal entrees and appetizers. The chef worked with a pizza consultant to create the crust and sauce, which will form the base for pies topped with goat cheese, roasted squash, and spicy organic kale, or ricotta, duck prosciutto, and blueberry chutney. Helah highlights the pickled carrots in saffron Greek yogurt sauce from the appetizer section and the cavatelli beef osso buco from the entree board. “We make things from scratch where possible, and you’ll very rarely find something in the restaurant that’s not homemade,” says Helah.
Those dishes pair to a list of craft beers — 15 of which are on draft — plus wine and cocktails. Look for brews from places like Evil Twin, Elysian, and Radiant Pig.
Helah says the restaurant is named Annabel for an uncle’s dairy cow, who once found its way into a swimming pool mid-dinner; she turned the pool milky white and had to be rescued by a crane (though she was just fine in the end). “It’s a very vivid memory,” Helah says.
Annabel hosts its grand opening on June 26, and then it will be open for dinner — and until 2 a.m. for the post-theater crowds — nightly. Look for lunch and brunch to start sometime after that.
See more photos on the next page.