No sleep till… Manhattan?
Despite all its reported cachet, it’s still a hard sell to draw Manhattanites across the river to Brooklyn. At least that’s what Justin Bazdarich and Todd Feldman, co-owners of Speedy Romeo have found. Since opening their first location in 2012 in Clinton Hill — the Brooklyn neighborhood that they both call home — the restaurant has become well known for thin-crust, wood-fired pizza, grilled steaks, and more. While the duo regularly host a crowd that includes locals and those who’ve seen Speedy Romeo on a number of best-of lists, they could barely coax their own families across the East River. So their new, second space at 63 Clinton Street on the Lower East Side already has at least a few potential customers.
“I see friends and family in New Jersey who haven’t been to the Brooklyn restaurant, and they say they’re definitely going to come to the Lower East Side,” Feldman says. “And I’m like, ‘You know you can just drive across the bridge to Brooklyn for five minutes, and you’re there?’ ”
“I understand it,” Bazdarich says. “I live near the Clinton Hill restaurant, and I don’t have any desire to come into the city — to travel 45 minutes — when everything we need, we’ve got in Brooklyn. But we need to do all these Manhattan people a favor. If they won’t come to us, we’ll come to them.”
So, like their namesake racehorse, they’ve got a good jump out of the starting gate. Those familiar with the Brooklyn location will recognize favorites like the excellent cheeseburger, made with Angus beef and topped with the fascinating (and perhaps not for everyone) Provel cheese and “speedy sauce.” There’s also the Saint Louie pizza, topped with that same oddball cheese as well as Italian sausage, pepperoni, and pickled chilis, and served sliced in small squares rather than big, NYC-style slices.
New additions to the Manhattan location include the Paul’s Boutique pie which was made specially for the new location and named for the Beastie Boys album whose cover was photographed a few blocks away. The pizza is loaded with pastrami from their Lower East Side neighbor Katz’s, plus a dijon béchamel sauce, smoked sauerkraut, fontina cheese, Thousand Island dressing, and a seeded “everything” crust. Much like the Saint Louie, it’s the sort of polarizing pizza that people will try as a dare…and end up hooked or left confused.
Like the Brooklyn location, Speedy Romeo is only cooking things up on a wood-fired grill or in the wood-fired pizza oven. The oven was a simple red when it arrived at the restaurant, but soon got a paint job to better resemble Eddie Van Halen’s guitar. “It’s a rock ’n’ roll oven,” Feldman explains.
For diners looking for more than pizza, the dishes coming off the grill offer some smokey bites. The wood-roasted artichoke, dressed in a lemon aioli with spring greens and mint, for instance, is a meeting of winter and spring that will still leave room to let you pack in another slice (or, for the more ambitious, a steak). That wood-fired fare has also inspired the cocktail menu, which is the biggest difference between the two outposts, as the Brooklyn spot only has a beer and wine license. With a full liquor license, the Clinton Street space has taken a cue from the cooks to develop a creative drinks menu, featuring a “non-smoking” and a “smoking” section.
“We want the kitchen to incorporate its mise en place into the bar,” says Feldman. He adds that they’re kicking around ideas that include smoked pineapple and more. For now, though, it means drinks like the Meadowland on the non-smoking side of the menu, featuring gin, elderflower, maraschino, lemon, grapefruit, and orange zest. On the smoking side, there’s the Diver Down with Lapsang rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, CioCiaro, and a brûléed cinnamon stick.
Manhattan’s Speedy Romeo — a consolidation of two former restaurants — seats about 50 and is decorated with reclaimed windows from Pennsylvania, movie theater benches from the Czech Republic, and a liquor store sign in the kitchen that used to hang across the street, but was taken down during construction. It turned out to be a hot item with lots of people trying to get their hands on it, but the Speedy Romeo guys finally snagged it with what they do best.
“We bribed the construction workers with a meal in Brooklyn,” Feldman reveals.
After an initial period where Speedy Romeo will serve only dinner Tuesday through Sunday, they’ll gradually add lunch and brunch service, with menus similar to the Brooklyn space. As for how they think their outer-borough success will play out in the new location, Feldman is confident this is the right place for them.
“There’s a Brooklyn feel to it, in a way,” he says. “But we’re with the big boys now. And if we were going to do it, the Lower East Side was where we were going to do it.”