Chef Marc Murphy (who you may know as a judge on Chopped, or for his NYC restaurants Ditch Plains and Landmarc) was working as executive chef for Cellars in the Sky at Windows on the World at the top of the Twin Towers. It was there in 1995 when interviewing for new kitchen staff where he met a feisty, young Albert Di Meglio who was just out of school. Di Meglio knew that he didn’t have the qualifications to work with the revered Murphy so he urged his interviewers to “push [him] through” to meet the chef. He managed to sit down with Murphy and told him, “If I suck, fire me.” Di Meglio’s spunk and determination were enough for Murphy to give him a shot, letting Di Meglio cook vegetables for him, turning into what Di Meglio now calls his big break. “My first big gig was amazing and I had no idea how amazing it was,” Di Meglio reflects.
That opportunity led to others that took him around the world and in various jobs at upscale NYC restaurants, including Le Cirque and Osteria del Circo. Di Meglio’s dream was always to own a restaurant of his own. He saw his dream realized in 2007 when he opened a New American restaurant. As the economic recession took the U.S. by storm in 2008, it turned out to be the worst time to open a new restaurant. “I lost my shoes, my shirt, probably my socks–but it was positive,” Di Meglio remembers. He moved on to become the executive chef at Rubirosa where he learned all the managerial and administrative skills he would need to successfully open his next restaurant.
We sat down with Di Meglio and Zach Weiner, who co-own Barano with Louis Silverman and Jonathan Soleimanzadeh. Barano is a neighborhood Italian restaurant in South Williamsburg where Di Meglio and partners strive to “bring a little bit of Manhattan into Brooklyn while maintaining Brooklyn vibe… it’s a little polished, a little different.” Weiner says their biggest challenge is to fight against being seen as a “special occasion restaurant,” and instead show people that while their food might be gorgeous and delicious, they can “feel comfortable coming in here a few times a week.” Di Meglio adds, “we’re always fighting to get you the best we can at the best price we can. [We’re constantly asking ourselves:] who do we want to be, what kind of service can we give, and what kind of price point can we offer it?”
The name Barano is an homage to Di Meglio’s cooking teacher, his grandmother, and her hometown in Italy. “My whole family would cook. I never thought anything of it, it was like breathing to me…everybody cooked,” Di Meglio says of his culinary education. Barano is Di Melgio’s way of sharing his “version of new Italian…a lot of classics where I can push the envelope.”
While the saffron gigli is the dish they can’t get off the menu because of its popularity (and fun fact: it happens to be the most photographed dish of theirs), Di Meglio is excited about his newest dish – the paccheri, a dish that “warms you up, it’s perfect for winter.” Like a beef stew with onion but “ratcheted up,” it involves a great marble beef that comes from a “freak-of-nature of a cow” that produces a succulent and intense flavor that pairs perfectly over pasta.
We asked why they chose the neighborhood of South Williamsburg to open up shop. Weiner and Di Meglio responded with that old saying: location, location, location. It turns out that their partner, Silverman, purchased the building that now holds Barano over seven years ago knowing that eventually, it would be the perfect location for a restaurant. “Talk about a dude with patience,” laughed Di Meglio, “It was a leap of faith. There was nothing here yet.” While they had to prove themselves to become part of the neighborhood (“South Williamsburg is picky about their food,” Weiner says), 22 months later, they find themselves a big player in the community. “The neighborhood supports us because we support them,” Di Meglio affirmed. Barano tries to source as many things locally in North and South Williamsburg as they can, and in the process, they have created friends, making everyone who comes in feel like they’re a part of the family.
Barano (26 Broadway, Brooklyn, NY) is a six-minute walk from the South Williamsburg NYC Ferry landing. While Di Meglio commutes from Staten Island daily by car, he says NYC Ferry is his easiest way to get into the city midday. He also recommends it to guests, who come back and tell him how easy and convenient it was. “It’s great, you get on, sit there, and you’re where you need to be.”