It's a cloudless spring day, and Joey Campanaro — the chef behind the Little Owl and its extremely popular meatball sliders — has decided to make steak for lunch.
Campanaro’s duplex penthouse on 13th Street in Greenwich Village doesn’t have a particularly grand kitchen — there aren’t the flashy pots and pans or fancy electrical devices you might see in the kitchen of a great chef. There is only a modest coffee maker on the counter.
“I never use the kitchen,” he says. There’s little reason to, given that Campanaro’s Little Owl isn’t far away on Bedford and Grove in the West Village, and he recently opened the separate Little Owl: the Venue, an event space on Greenwich Avenue. (Electrolux donated $27,000 worth of equipment for the space, he says.) Market Table, the Carmine Street restaurant he opened in 2007, a year after opening Little Owl, is also nearby.
Joey Campanaro gets ready for a feast on his private roof deck.
NOTES ON CAMPANARO: The first-floor kitchen doesn’t have the kind of flash one expects.
PAL JOEY: Campanaro on the spiral staircase of his duplex; on the wall behind him are some of his favorite clips, including a photo of him looking contemplatively at a meatball slider and an etching by one of Little Owl’s less affluent regulars.
But today, he’s decided to cook on the grill on his private roof deck and serve it to his guests on the deck’s teak dining set.
So, after setting out four inviting steaks (two aged, two fresh), a heap of shrimp, green Fresno peppers and various seasonings and oils next to the grill, Campanaro lights the fire, begins sucking down Marlboros and waits for the coals to get hot.
“I’ve been here 2½ years,” Campanaro says of his 900-square-foot, one-bedroom rental, which boasts an additional 400 square feet of outdoor space.
Campanaro found the place through Bruno Ricciotti, a South Philly childhood buddy who happened to be a real estate broker. (Campanaro recently returned to Philadelphia to open the Village Belle restaurant with his brother, Lou.) The chef had been living in the East Village and Alphabet City since 2006 (after returning from a stint in Los Angeles), but was growing tired of those areas.
“Too many crackheads,” Campanaro says with typical bluntness.
And his current apartment is not only close to the Little Owl, but it’s also close to a lot of other eateries he likes.
“My third-favorite restaurant is around the corner,” Campanaro says. “Gotham Bar and Grill. I go there every Sunday.”
What are the other two?
“Well,” Campanaro says, considering this, “I shouldn’t say [Gotham is] my third-favorite. One of my three favorites.”
The Little Owl, of course, is his top one. Market Table is another favorite. If he’s allowed four, he’ll throw in the Harrison (where he was once the chef). And then there’s friend (and former boss) Jonathan Waxman’s restaurant, Barbuto.
But proximity almost feels beside the point when you consider how excellent a pad he found.
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