Chef Frank DeCarlo has never set out to prepare Italian dishes the way most Americans are accustomed to eating. You will not find spaghetti and meatballs on his menus. The truth is he’d rather serve you underutilized North Fork seafood like whelk, eel and mantis shrimp — “junk fish,” as it’s sometimes referred to by those unacquainted with its culinary potential.
DeCarlo shined a light on this rustic Italian seaport style of cooking when he and wife Dulcinea Benson opened Barba Bianca on Preston’s Wharf in Greenport last summer.
For his second season in the village, he hopes to expand diners’ palates again. Where last year Chef DeCarlo focused primarily on homespun cuisine from Liguria, Puglia and Sardegna, the new menu will draw on fare from port cities like Venice and Sicily.
“We have always loved Venice and feel its influence would round out the menu,” DeCarlo said. “It’s an old port city with islands and bays and lagoons with vast farms and wineries on the mainland of the Veneto, very similar to the North Fork.”
Expect Venetian dishes and Sicilian specialties like Carciofi al Forno (breaded artichoke). Risotto di Aragosta (lobster risotto) and Coniglio Fritto (fried rabbit) are also newcomers to the menu.
“Last year we had a smaller menu and we felt that things were missing,” said DeCarlo, who is also the owner and chef at rustic Italian restaurant Peasant, located in the NoLiTa section of Manhattan. “We all need to expand our idea of what we can eat to what we want to eat, so now is a perfect time to add the spider crabs, snails and the frog legs as well.”
DeCarlo is excited about cooking with underutilized seafood from our own waters.
“A lot of North Fork seafood is being shipped to China (mantis shrimp/whelk) because there is a huge market for it there,” he explained. “We are trying to make sure that North Forkers get to experience what is being pulled out of the Peconic Bay. Last year, our whelk guy was shocked to hear we wanted it… It’s exactly what happened with squid and skate 30 years ago — they have always been in the water, but no one wanted them. Now they are on menus all over.”
Also new this year, Barba Bianca will serve a vegetarian-only menu each Monday to promote local farmers. The offerings include Fiori Di Zucca (zucchini flowers, ricotta, saffron oil) and Gurgulione (Tuscan vegetable stew).
“The incredible farms on the North Fork are a great excuse to try to bring more focus to them and at the same time bring more awareness toward conservation,” DeCarlo said. “We listen to our customers and if there are dishes that they are more interested in or are requesting (like more gluten free options), then we will do what we can to make it happen.”
The nightly specials will also change with what’s fresh.
“If Melissa from Farm Beyond has something special or Charlie at Southold Fish Market is psyched about a special catch, it is going on the menu that night,” he said.
Barba Bianca reopens for the season on Saturday, May 26.
Visit them at 102 Main Street, Greenport