Volume 23, Number 9 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | July 9 - 15, 2010
Photo by Joseph Rearick
Barberini Alimentari, at 227 Front Street, is a fine, authentic Italian market and restaurant.
On Front Street, a taste of Sanremo, Italy
BY Joseph Rearick
On a recent weekday, tourists and locals filled the streets of the South Street Seaport in spite of the 100-degree heat, seeking sights, food, and a welcome breeze. So it was strange to hear Claudio Marini, owner of Barberini Alimentari at 227 Front Street, describe that location as a proverbial “Siberia” just five years ago.
“People didn’t know where they were,” Marini said of his restaurant’s position adjacent to the Seaport. “They’d say, ‘I’m lost, where am I?’ Now they come looking for Front Street.”
And Marini had much to do with putting Front Street on the map so swiftly. Barbarini Alimentari, originally a market for fine Italian food items, has helped draw customers to the area since the restaurant opened in 2005 with its attention to authenticity. Now both a market and a restaurant, Marini’s business attracts a steady stream of returning customers to the once-deserted street.
“We like it when people come and say ‘Claudio, what’s good today?’ They trust us,” said Marini. “We know everybody and everybody knows us.”
He derived the idea for his market-restaurant hybrid from his hometown of Sanremo, Italy, where businesses using this model are popular. He imports special cheeses and cold cuts from Italy for both facets of his store, fusing Northern and Southern Italian cuisine for a taste and experience he calls “unique.” Barbarini Alimentari also uses Italian ingredients according to season, insuring top quality and freshness. Thus, the menu varies significantly over the course of the year, and three Italian chefs create specials every week.
Also, he keeps the market in the front of the store stocked with the very items his chefs use when preparing meals. One could find the seasonal ingredients needed to create a fine Italian meal at home to replicate one of the menu offerings, or simply shop for common grocery items.
This fluidity is not easy to maintain, but Marini sees it as essential to the life of his business.
“It’s challenging to keep the quality of service and food to very high levels every day,” he said. “You don’t know how many times after we close I sit here and say, ‘how can I make this better.’ You can’t just sit still. This is very American; competition, improvement, always got to keep up.”
But his customers’ satisfaction is reward enough, and because of his relationship with the regulars, “the challenge is made easier in a way.”
“I’ve been in this business all my life, and it’s a tough business,” admitted Marini. “But if you like it, it comes easier — and it’s fun too.”
He paused a moment to greet a customer he knew well, conversing with her in Italian. She had brought a family member, also Italian, to try Barbarini Alimentari’s menu.
And as if that were not already a fine testament to the authenticity of Marini’s Italian restaurant, he jokingly encouraged the interview to a close because of the World Cup semi-final playing on a TV next door. At the moment, the game between Uruguay and the Netherlands was scoreless.
“No,” he chuckled, “I’m just joking — take as much time as you want. Italy is out already, you know?”