Carroll Gardens

Cremini’s: The little Brooklyn restaurant that could

October 13, 2023 Andrew Cotto
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If Cremini’s Aperitivo & Kitchen were an American folktale, it would be called “The Little Restaurant That Could.” Opened by newlyweds from Le Marche, first-time restaurateurs and newbies to New York, on the dawn of the pandemic, they have managed to thrive through creativity, hustle and passion. Perhaps even more impressive is that the couple, devoid of any staff, has remained happily married.

Not only are Elena Salati and Riccardo Massetti still in love with each other, they have fallen in love with Brooklyn. The feeling is mutual with regard to the latter love affair as Cremini’s has become a neighborhood staple, as well as a destination, on the outer reaches of Court Street where the BQE separates Carroll Gardens from Red Hook. Within the storefront’s quaint space, adorned with antiques (a vintage typewriter and telephone) and modern flashes (a “No Eat till Brooklyn” neon sign), are refurbished tables and chairs, generously spaced, upfront and along the long bar where Mr. Massetti flexes his aperitivo expertise when not busy taking orders or busing tables. Ms. Salati often emerges from her spacious kitchen in the back to deliver plates to tables and chat before returning to her post.

“Cremini’s has been a great addition to Carroll Gardens especially to ‘Lower Court,’” said Marlo Splitt, who lives nearby with her family. “We all love the unique menu and the great vibe.”

The main dining room at Cremini. Photo: Andrew Cotto

It’s the sense of conviviality that defines the couple and the ambiance of their eatery. Despite all of the challenges, they are happy to be here and grateful for the small space they have carved for themselves in Brooklyn’s epic restaurant scene.

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“From the first minute, we felt at home here,” Mr. Massetti said. “Together with the neighborhood and the city, we have faced this complicated time and together we agree that eating well is not a privilege but everyone’s right. That’s why we are here.”

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Their aforementioned space is a unique one in that they are the only Italian restaurant in New York offering the unique cuisine of Le Marche (a rolling central Italian region on the Adriatic) including its signature dishes of Oliva all’Ascolana (stuffed olives with meat or veggie, breaded and fried) and Cremini (fried custard rectangles). There’s a section of regional pastas, such as Pasta Le Marche, a fried fettucine ball adhered by a ragu and Parmigiano, and the indigenous Crescia sandwiches that fold lard-infused flatbreads around meats and cheese.

The menu, like the wine list, spans the Italian peninsula, allowing Ms. Salati to share some recipes of her home region of Piemonte, especially in the use of white truffles in her highly-acclaimed Bucatini Cacio e Pepe and her Vitello Tonnato. There’s also other regional specialties in Saltimbocca alla Romana, southern Italian meatballs “Mamma Mia,” and Pinsa, a Roman pizza style (only available on Monday and Thursday). A nod to both Le Marche and America is the Elena Burger, a half-pound of choice meats mixed with Ascolana olives on a brioche bun topped with Provolone, bacon and carmalized onions. There’s an array of vibrant salads, cured meats and cheeses, and familiar starters from the north to south. The diverse dessert menu does bring it back to Le Marche with the namesake Cremini custards offered in three flavors or a mix.

The menu itself is a metaphor for the maneuvers of the Italian couple that has allowed them to navigate incredible challenges and emerge as a beloved Brooklyn gem.

“Our restaurant is in Carroll Gardens, and we live in Park Slope,” Ms. Salati said. “We feel part of the community, and we have found great friends and people here.”

Readers who wish to know about future Dining Club events may be notified, with no obligation, by clicking here.

Andrew Cotto has been eating his way through Brooklyn for 25 years. As an author, the food of our borough has been featured extensively in his novels and journalism. In his new column for the Daily Eagle, Andrew will tell the tales of Brooklyn eateries, from the people behind the food to the communities which they nourish.

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