May 4, 2022
Sending noods: Cafe Spaghetti in Carol Gardens offers a satisfying list of crowd pleasers
Brooklyn-to-the-bone Sal Lamboglia, formerly of Locanda Verde and Bar Primi, brings a menu of classics to his charming new eatery
About four years ago Sal Lamboglia really started thinking about opening his own restaurant. The chef had been with Andrew Carmelini’s Noho Hospitality Group since he graduated culinary school, first at A Voce and then helping to open the likes of Locanda Verde, Lafayette, The Dutch, and Bar Primi, the latter of which he was also a partner and responsible for much of the menu.
“I started to get the itch,” Lamboglia told Brooklyn Magazine earlier this week. “I’ve always known I’ve wanted to do my own thing, but the last few years I kind of honed in on what it would be. At first I thought I’d call it, like, Sal’s, or Sal’s of Brooklyn, yadda yadda. But I talked it over with a few people who are my restaurant consiglieres, and I decided I’m going to name it Cafe Spaghetti. It’s me; it’s playful; I’ve never heard it before; it fits.”
Thing is, Lamboglia was only looking for space in Carroll Gardens, where he’s lived for almost two decades, most recently with his wife, his two kids, and his four Vespas. Born and raised in Bensonhurst, the guy is Brooklyn to the bone. It took a minute to find the right spot, and the right spot took a bit of serendipity; Cafe Spaghetti’s new home wasn’t listed anywhere, but Lamboglia is friends with the plumber who works for the people whose family have owned buildings on Union Street for 100 years, and things went from there. A neighborhood story for a neighborhood restaurant.
The Cafe Spaghetti menu is loaded with crowd-pleasers, or as Lamboglia put it, “it’s a good mix of what someone might want to eat.” There are cacio e pepe rice balls, an octopus insalata, a romaine “Caesar,” chicken Milanese with fennel, branzino puttanesca, and a spiedini alla Romana (roasted bread with loads of mozzarella, lemon, and anchovy) that Lamboglia is particularly psyched about.
Pasta dishes form the core of the menu, with prices that range from $16 for the linguini aglio e olio to $24 for the spaghetti alle vongole, which Lamboglia says is prepared “the way I’ve eaten it in Naples.” To that last point, both of Lamboglia’s parents came to Brooklyn from Naples, and “there’s a lot of personal history in the food here,” he said.
The fusilli grosso, for example, is topped with Nonna’s genovese, and is literally how his grandmother made it. “It’s a classic ragu from Naples, made with beef or veal but also a ton of onions. Like, too many onions, cooked down for hours. I can remember as a kid going to her house after school and smelling those onions cooking from around the corner.” Lamboglia’s mom makes an appearance as well, with Patrizia’s eggplant parm.
The crucial test at Cafe Spaghetti, of course, is the spaghetti. Lamboglia made us a plate of the pomodoro the other day with a side of meatballs. It was perfect. The pasta itself is dried, cooked al dente, tossed lightly with a bright, garlicky, pulpy tomato sauce and finished with parmesan, black pepper, and hand-torn leaves of basil.
The meatballs are lovely as well, dense, juicy, and packed with flavor.
Lamboglia’s dad, who ran a restaurant just off Mulberry Street called Assaggio back in the late 1970s into the early ’80s, is in charge of the dessert at Cafe Spaghetti, and several times a week he comes in and personally makes trays and trays of Tiramisu. It’s a dish that often disappoints, but not at Cafe Spaghetti. Antonio Lamboglia’s version (which you may have eaten at Bar Primi) is shockingly light, and nails the tricky balance among cocoa, coffee, mascarpone, and booze.
Cafe Spaghetti is tiny (“we’re calling it cozy,” said Lamboglia) with only 20 seats inside the restaurant proper, and that includes a half dozen stools at the curvy bar up front.
But the money shot here is the expansive backyard, with tables under jaunty umbrellas and a turquoise Vespa that Lamboglia donated from his personal collection.
There’s also a curbside dining room out on Union, bringing the total seating up to a respectable 80 or so.
Expect most of those 80 to be Carroll Gardens locals in the early going. “I’ve always liked that feeling of walking into a neighborhood joint, a neighborhood bar, and we’ve had a lot of neighbors here, old school people, come in already. This block is a little off the beaten path, and everything’s been here forever.”
And when asked about finally opening his own place, the always ebullient Lamboglia gets even more excited. “It feels amazing,” he said. “This is a passion project. For me, my wife, my kids, for my family, for my roots, I feel like this is the melting pot of my love for the game, and I just want to share that with everyone.”
Cafe Spaghetti is located at 126 Union Street, between Hicks and Columbia Streets, and is currently open from Tuesday through Saturday from 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m, and Sundays from 5:00 to 9:00.
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