Volume 20 Issue 10 | July 20 - 26, 2007

From maritime commerce to
cafes, Front Street gets
a dramatic face-lift

The center of world commerce is coming full circle. The South Street Seaport, once a thriving port in mid-1800s, has felt like a dead zone for decades, save for Pier 17 and the Fulton Fish Market, which ultimately left, too. Now, the all-but-abandoned tourist district is morphing into a permanent home for New Yorkers. Since the 2000 census, 814 new apartments have been built (or are about to be complete) in the 12-block historic Seaport district. And restaurants and retail shops, eager to cater to the burgeoning neighborhood’s needs, have followed the flood of residents. Nowhere is this transformation more apparent than on Front Street, a beneficiary of the Historic Front Street Project, a joint effort by Zuberry Associates, Sciame Development and the Durst Organization to bring luxury apartments and retail space to the decaying waterfront district. Completed in 2005, their $46.3 million redevelopment of Front Street created 13 new retail spaces between Beekman Street and Peck Slip, and all but two of the storefronts have been leased. The developers kept the historic buildings’ exteriors intact, ensuring that the area’s history would not be dramatically altered. But when you consider that 235 Front once housed sailors down on their luck, and is now home to a New Zealand bistro, it’s unmistakable: the Seaport has undergone a sea change. Following are some of the shops and restaurants riding the neighborhood’s new wave.

Stella Maris
213 Front Street, 212-233-2417
Drawn to “the beauty of Front Street on sunny days,” first-time restaurateur Darren Pettigrew decided to open Stella Maris (“Star of the Sea”) in February with partner Keith Doyle. The restaurant specializes in modern European dishes like salty lardoons and lentils and rabbit salad, but chef Pettigrew, an Irishman who trained in London, acts locally by carrying oysters and clams “exclusively from East Coast farms, and choosing organic ingredients as much as possible.” The adjoining café area, which offers free wi-fi, opens for breakfast at eight, serving coffee, Jacques Torres hot chocolate, fresh croissants, and fruit salad, and stays open until 10 p.m., for a casual coffee and dessert. The dining room is more formal — the napkins and menus aren’t disposable — and the wine and cocktail list is expansive. General manager Serena Salvo invented the most popular drink, a Sky vodka-based Meelo (meaning ‘melon’ in Latin), which may best be enjoyed while sitting at one of the few sidewalk tables, and doing some prime people watching while you decide how many fresh oysters to order. — Sarah Norris

Il Brigante
214 Front Street, 212-285-0222
Like moths to a flame, pizza enthusiasts are being lured to Venanzio Pasubio’s recently opened Il Brigante restaurant, and its signature wood-burning oven. Pasubio himself was attracted to the area by its historic buildings and casual waterfront setting.

What makes his pizza special? “It’s the thin crust, only 7 ounces; a 12-inch pie that must be consumed here and is not for delivery,” says Pasubio, a native of Calabria, which is just south of Naples, the epicenter of thin-crust pizza. “I use Caputo OO flour from Naples, and make my dough with only water, yeast, salt, flour and extra virgin olive oil.”

The oven took three months to cure properly, as Pasubio gradually built up the heat from 200 degrees to over 600 degrees. After the classic mozzarella, tomato and basil Margherita, the most popular of the many pies he makes are: the Calabria, with red onions, oil-cured olives and spicy salami; the Paesana, with mushrooms, sausage and red pepper; and the Brigante, a cheese and tomato pie brought piping hot out of the oven, and topped with wild arugula, parmesan shavings and extra virgin olive oil that gently melts into the pie. — Frank Angelino

Bin No. 220
220 Front Street, 212-374-9463,
“This is a wine-friendly place,” says Bin No. 220 co-owner Sandy Tedesco, “as opposed to wine-snobby.” Former bartenders and fierce wine enthusiasts, she and Calli Lerner have built a cozy, 35-seat space that offers a selection of 80 bottles, all Italian. Lerner grew up in Rome and Florence, and Sandy Tedesco is Italian-American, so the decision to focus on Italian wines was an easy one. The hard part was selecting the actual list, Lerner confides, because the women “couldn’t agree on anything.” Eventually, they compromised by dividing the list according to their individual tastes — Lerner’s wines are “light and fruity” while Tedesco’s lean towards “full-bodied and dry.” Neighborhood residents — they live three blocks away — the two decided to start their first bar on Front Street because they “knew what the area was lacking.” For several years, they’ve been investors in Manhattan’s popular Employees Only restaurant, but Bin No. 220 is their first solo venture. Open since 2005, the bar serves plates of cured meats, cheeses, and roasted veggies, available in small or large portions ($8-$14), as well as panini, one of which is filled with Nutella ($6). Two months ago, they also started serving lunch, heartier fare than the olives and cheeses that are available at night. Business cards on the bar leave room for you to write down the name of the wine, its vintage, and “notes to self,” which should help make it easier to remember the name of your new favorite. Bottles are priced from $32 to $325, but wines by the glass start at $8. A flight, which changes daily, offers a selection of three wines for $14. The bar has a welcoming ambience, with music on the stereo that doesn’t drown out conversation, two walls painted a rich Chianti red, one wall of exposed brick, and the fourth is all glass facing Front Street. It’s the perfect spot for an after-work drink, or a date, which Lerner confirms. “When I look around, all I see are couples!” She and Tedesco are in and out most days, and have also opened a pet and grooming spa, The Salty Paw, around the corner on Peck Slip. — S.N.

Jack’s Stir Brew Coffee
222 Front Street, 212-227-7631,
Between the collection of comfortable antique furniture and the music coming from the stereo — not too loud to drive you to distraction — the vibe at Jack’s feels as comfortable as your living room. In addition to the cult following that flocks to his West Village coffee shop, there’s a growing crowd of connoisseurs at the second Jack’s, which opened last October. Mazzolla chose the South Street Seaport in part because of his attraction to the Fulton Street Fish Market and his sadness at seeing it close. The East Village, already saturated with coffee shops, didn’t need another one and the Front Street location was affordable. “This is pioneering,” Mazzolla says. “We lit the fuse down here and it’s sizzling.”

His patented system of stirring coffee as it brews — a method inspired by the French press — makes for a cup of Joe good enough to make you weep. Although the tears may also be a result of remembering all the time you’ve spent at “Fourbucks.”

Lousia Bennion, the manager of both shops, doesn’t see Starbucks as a competitor because of Jack’s conscientious emphasis on excellence and the community he fosters. “People down here are grateful,” she says, “to have a place that’s community-oriented where they can hang out and drink good coffee. There is a tight-knit group of regulars who are in every day multiple times and the rest is a mix of tourists, shoppers, and people from the Financial District who take five vanilla lattes back to the office.” — S.N.

Stonehouse California Olive Oil
223 Front Street, 212-358-8700,
“Olive oil is not just a salad dressing,” says Megan Cariola, store manager of Stonehouse California Olive Oil, where a recent tasting event featured gelato made from its blood orange olive oil. At Stonehouse, all of the questions you’ve ever wanted to ask about the condiment — from how it’s made to how long it lasts (olive oil does not benefit from aging) — can be answered. All of the oils, which are certified extra virgin, come from Silver Ridge, an organically farmed grove in Oroville, California. With three stores in California, Stonehouse branched out in New York in May 2006, a decision made by co-owner and native New Yorker, Trisha Baldwin, because “like in the Bay Area, a high number of people here are food-savvy and health-conscious.” It quickly became apparent, however, that the original space on East 10th Street was too small, and the women began hunting for the perfect spot. They fell in love with Front Street, which Baldwin says “is really good about maintaining an old New York feel, as opposed to something like Candyland.” She cites the small businesses and the neighborhood’s mix of locals and tourists as reasons why the new location is “like a dream for us.” Cariola adds, “It’s like a little family down here.” A table set up in the middle of the store displays all the different varieties of oil, including the house blend, garlic oil, and citrus blends that can be tasted with chunks of fresh bread. Additionally, there are regular tastings, prepared by a resident chef, that incorporate olive oil or balsamic vinegar, often on Thursday nights from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

224 Front Street, 646-416-6560,
“I knew the popularity of this area was going to explode,” explains Andrea Simoneau about the process of setting up the Manhattan outpost of her children’s clothing store. After outfitting Park Slope kids in designer duds for five years, she deciding to open a second store in the Seaport because it struck her as a “very Village-y, sweet neighborhood.” The Front Street store is decorated by a veritable explosion of color, from the painted ceiling pipes to the soft, leopard-print rug. Customers who flock to Firefly are rewarded by discovering that almost all of the high-end merchandise is 30 to 60 percent lower than retail. The only downside, of course, is that you may be tempted to spend all those savings on more of the fabulous clothing and toys. On weekend mornings, Simoneau reports, fathers on coffee-and-bagel-runs often come in with children who love to play with the handmade toys and puzzles. In addition to the clothing, which is organized by size from newborn to age 12, Firefly sells children’s raingear, stuffed animals, strollers, diaper bags, decorations, and a miniature treehouse. The store stocks a variety of brands, and Simoneau takes two trips a year to Argentina, where she buys much of the clothing. Gift registry is available for showers, and the Web site, like the store itself, turns shopping into a remarkably pleasant experience. — S.N.

Barbarini Alimentari
225 Front Street, 212-227-8890,
“We saw there was a need for good quality food,” says Stefano Barbagallo, who opened Barbarini Alimentari, a 15-seat café and Italian grocery, with Claudio Marini last June. “Not only are there more and more residential buildings going up and more people living here, there is [still] a lack of good places to eat.” Barbagallo, formerly of Pepe Rosso, also likes working in a neighborhood less congested than the East Village, where he’s also the chef at Paprika. “It’s very relaxing being close to the water,” he says. Usually in the kitchen and taking orders upfront, both men exchange energetic banter with customers, many of whom are hooked on the coffee and the owners’ friendliness. Their passion for food and pride in their cooking is obvious upon pushing open the glass door and taking in the mouth-watering smells of fresh bread, and the sight of roasted and stuffed vegetables displayed in the glass counter. Everything is also available for delivery and take-out, should you feel like strolling to the water’s edge for a gourmet picnic. — S.N.

226 Front Street, 212-766-1066
Front Street got a chic treat when Leontine, an upscale women’s clothing and home boutique, opened its doors this past December. This is the third store from Korean-born proprietor Kyung Lee, who also owns Claudine and Albertine, both on Christopher Street. Situated amongst the trendy restaurants and galleries, Leontine sells everything from one-of-a-kind ladies fashions, much of which come from local designers and are made specifically for the store, to new and vintage jewelry, shoes, furniture, housewares, and bath and body products from famed, historic Florentine pharmacy, Santa Maria Novella.

“The idea,” says storekeeper and in-house artist, Virginia Loughnan, “was for this location to be a complete lifestyle store. Everything you see is for sale.” This includes everything from the jewelry display cases to the light fixtures. The store itself has a warm, homey feel with exposed brick and Oriental wall murals hand painted by Loughnan. In the near future you can expect to see more of Loughnan’s art for sale on screens, lampshades, and linens throughout the store. In the meantime, stop in to browse some truly unique fashion and furniture. — Lauren Murphy

24 Peck Slip (corner of Front St.), 212-766-2344,
Victor Chen says he named his sushi restaurant for “for the love of my wife” — SuteiShi, pronounced stashi, is the Japanese word for Stacy — but adds, “when I’m mad at her, it’s just for [the] love of sushi.” Chen has always loved sushi, but until he opened his own restaurant in December of last year, he didn’t know much about it. A former aircraft mechanic, Chen opened the Cyber Cigar Coffee Bar at Pier 17 nine year ago, and last year he had to close his Front Street deli, A Bite to Eat, because of ventilation problems. But he was tired of coffee and specials like the “slamwich.”

“I wanted to open a restaurant,” he says, “and as soon as I walked in here, I said, ‘This place speaks sushi to me.’” He purposely hired a manager, Renee Lee, a Vassar graduate who also had no restaurant experience, because Chen “had a vision and didn’t want to be told what to do.” He’s ad-libbed beautifully, with menu innovations like “hot rocks,” served tableside with a flame, allowing diners to cook their own mushrooms, tiger shrimp, and Chen’s favorite, filet mignon. He credits the risk he took in opening his businesses to a young entrepreneurs’ organization. “I wouldn’t have had the courage to do what I do without it,” Chen says. “When I first started in the Seaport years ago, I didn’t think there was enough traffic.” Recently, Suteishi has been becoming increasingly popular, much like the neighborhood, which Chen says, “keeps on changing for the better.” — S. N.

Nelson Blue
235 Front Street 212-346-9090,
“Every store on Front Street is different from the rest,” says Diane Honeywell, general manager of Nelson Blue, which opened on May 4. But this New Zealand restaurant has the most intriguing claim of all: “it’s the first totally Kiwi restaurant in the country,” says Honeywell.

Co-owner Pauli Morgan hails from Nelson, New Zealand, and the back of the menu reads like a travel brochure, showing the town on a map and describing it as “an unspoiled corner of the world.” Its popular items include New Zealand green-lipped mussels, lamp shops, a variety of fresh seafood like lump crab cakes, and venison sausage (Honeywell’s favorite). Equally relevant, at least to the dozens of friends who flock to Nelson Blue until its closing time of two a.m., is Morgan’s decade-long tenure as a bartender at Puck Fair in Soho.

Morgan, co-owner Michelle Casano, and Honeywell fell in love with the Front Street location as soon as they saw it. The picture windows offer a great view of the Brooklyn Bridge, and can be pushed open to create an outdoor cafe on the sidewalk. In addition to the Kiwi fare, Nelson Blue also offers a selection of wine from the Southern hemisphere, the majority of which are from New Zealand. The restaurant has a huge bar alongside a communal table, and seats for 65, and the outside dining area has room for 35 more. With a glass of crisp Sauvignon Blanc and a plate of grilled diver sea scallops, it almost feels like a Kiwi vacation. — S.N.

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