Restaurant power couple Danny Abrams and Cindy Smith, the team behind Mermaid Inn and Mermaid Oyster Bar, have teamed up with pizza trailblazer Danny Amend (formerly of Marco’s and Franny’s) to convert the original Mermaid Inn space on the Upper West Side into Pizzeria Sirenetta (568 Amsterdam Ave, 212-799-7401), serving rustic Italian fare as seen through a Brooklyn lens.
The pizzeria, whose name means “little mermaid” in Italian, will focus on a menu of Neapolitan pizzas and straightforward entrées, antipasti, and pasta. It may not seem like a novel idea, but this place has a legit team backing it. Abrams has a slew of restaurants under his belt; in addition to the Inn and Oyster Bar, he’s a partner in burger stalwart J.G. Melon. Smith, his business (and life) partner, was once managing partner of Raoul’s. When they starting getting serious about the idea of opening a pizzeria, they immediately thought of Amend, who was a major force in the trend that swept a Flatbush Avenue pizza joint — and the entirety of Brooklyn — along to an era of farm-to-table menus. “We knew he had a very strong background, and we certainly liked what he had done at Franny’s and heard of what he had done at Marco’s,” Smith tells the Voice.
The couple connected with Amend through a mutual friend, and from the start they were hoping to bring him aboard full time. When they learned that Amend was more amenable to a consulting role, they agreed to give it a try. But since October, the three have been working toward a shared vision of creating a family-friendly neighborhood dining place, offering great food at moderate prices. Smith praises Amend’s temperament and work ethic; so far he’s been at the restaurant every day. The working relationship between the trio has been so positive, they haven’t discussed parting ways just yet. “When we described to Amend what we wanted to do, he understood and helped us carry that out,” Smith says.
When it’s time to part ways, they will have a full team already in place: Chef Camille Rodriguez has been working directly with Amend, and Mermaid Inn corporate chef and Sirenetta co-partner Michael Cressotti oversees operations.
To kick off a meal, there’s a short selection of salumi ($7 to $8) and antipasti salads, like kale with Parmigiano-Reggiano ($13) and chicory with pancetta and hazelnuts ($14). Smith says that since they opened early in February, the most popular appetizer has been a bruschetta of zucchini, ricotta, and pine nuts ($10). In the entrée category, that award goes to the steak with potatoes, salsa verde, and Parmigiano-Reggiano ($28).
Pizza and pasta are the highlights of the menu. As for the latter, expect to see simple options like linguinette with Meyer lemon and ricotta ($17) and spaghetti with tomato, chilies, herbs, and Parmigiano-Reggiano ($17). There also a clam pizza here, topped with parsley, garlic, and lemon ($18), similar to Franny’s popular pie. So far, the fan favorite has been the prosciutto di Parma, arugula, ricotta, and balsamico ($18).
To drink, four red and four white wines, from different regions, are offered by the glass and quartino, as well as a concise selection of bottle options under $70. Two beers are on draft, and specialty cocktails should be on the menu very soon.
As UWS residents, Abrams and Smith know the area well. They feel like the neighborhood was hungry for a good casual pizzeria — they’ve been toying with the idea of opening something for the past couple of years. Whenever they got a craving, they’d trek downtown, or else to Brooklyn to visit places like Co., Motorino, or Paulie Gee’s. With a four-year-daughter who spends a lot of time at the restaurant (“On opening night, she was dragging her friend around like she owned the place,” says Smith), the couple wanted the restaurant to be comfortable for families, and so there’s a brief kid’s menu with plain pizza and a few pastas on it. “When you have a child, you definitely have a better idea of what people are looking for when they go out,” says Smith.