When Sebastiano Faraone retired from his job at U.S. Customs seven months ago, he had no plans to open a restaurant. Then a space in Carroll Gardens presented itself.
“There were two failed restaurants that were here,” he explained. “I own the building, and thought it was a good opportunity. Being retired, it gives me something to do.”
Faraone, who worked at pizzerias when he was younger, opened his own, Sebastiano’s, at 257 Columbia Street five weeks ago, joining a pocket of Italian restaurants around the Columbia Waterfront. There’s Ferdinando’s, a neighborhood staple since 1904; the classic pizzeria House of Pizza & Calzone; a new outpost of Toby’s Public House, known for its brick oven pizzas and craft beers; and another recent addition, Popina, an American Southern / Italian mashup. Sebastiano’s is in the old-school red sauce camp, with a takeout counter, casual seating and a bar that awaits that a liquor license (it should be approved in three months). The neighborhood seems to be enjoying its newest Italian option, with 11 five-star reviews on Google all praising its Sicilian, homestyle cooking.
Born in Palermo, Sicily, Faraone came to Carroll Gardens at age two, and has been here ever since. He brought with him a love of traditional southern Italian cooking, and has applied its focus on quality ingredients to the menu at Sebastiano’s.
“The food is fresh from the market,” he says. “We use 100 percent natural food. Everything, even the pasta, is made fresh and on premises. Nothing is ever frozen. We take pride in our food.”
His business partner and chef is Paul Ruggirello, a native of Bensonhurst who has worked as a butcher and manager for several delis and pizzerias on Staten Island and in Brooklyn, most recently at Italy Pizza in Greenpoint. He continues to order from Bensonhurst–Tribuzio Meat Market is one of Sebastiano’s purveyors. Caputo’s on Court Street provides their bread, which they pick up twice daily.
“This is traditional Mediterranean cooking,” says Ruggirello. “We buy meat, vegetables the same day. We never put them in the refrigerator for two or three days. The fish? We buy them that day too.”
“We don’t have a microwave,” he adds. “It takes a little longer, but it tastes different.”
Their commitment to freshness even means a longer-than-usual wait time for certain dishes, like the lasagna, which can take a half hour to serve. Faraone warns customers in advance.
“We haven’t had one complaint,” he said. “People understand. This is homestyle cooking, like their grandmother used to make.”
Even though the restaurant has only been open for a little over a month, Faraone says some patrons stop by three to five times a week. Many are friends, or friends of friends, who are spreading the word about the lasagna, the meatballs, and the square, 16-piece Grandma Pie. Already it’s found the kind of devotion among customers that Faraone and Ruggirello reserve for their own gold standard for square slices in Brooklyn, DaVinci Pizzeria in Bensonhurst.
Faraone says it’s the sauce that makes his pizza so special. “And there’s a special secret that cannot be revealed,” he adds.
In general, Faraone doesn’t sell his Grandma and traditional pies by the slice, though he may make an exception at lunch. “I never liked…pizza [that] sits around for four to five hours,” he says. “Those places would never last in this neighborhood. They’ll never have the quality of food made fresh on a daily basis. That’s what we’re trying to do: make everything to order, and don’t reheat anything.”