Sicily, now a hot travel destination, is also the theme of 11 South, a new restaurant that opens Tuesday on South Fullerton Avenue in downtown Montclair.
Chef-owner Joseph Catalano of Teglia Pizza, just down the street on Bloomfield Avenue, has converted the former site of Palazzo restaurant into a bright, colorful space with the help of local architect John Guadagnoli.
Sicilian food is more Mediterranean than Italian, said Catalano, a West Orange native whose parents are from Palermo, the Sicilian capital. “Everyone from all over the Mediterranean went through Sicily to get to Europe,” he said. “We were conquered by everybody.”
Eventually, he hopes to highlight that rich culinary tradition with monthly wine dinners focusing on cuisines that influenced the region’s cooking, including Moroccan, Lebanese, Turkish, French and Spanish.
Sicilian-centric classics on the 11 South menu include arancini (rice balls), Pasta Che Sardi (pasta with sardines), and gatto (potato pie, which he serves with a three-meat ragu). There’s typical seafood dishes like cod and octopus and pastas with the breadcrumb toppings of Gremolata (flavored with herbs and lemon) and Muddica (with anchovy and herbs).
Though Sicilian food is typically peasant fare, Catalano said, there are also special-occasion dishes on the menu at 11 South. Lamb shank, which you’d have on Easter, is “glossada” style, cooked down with onion and finished with Marsala wine, as is short rib. Cod, with black olives, capers and tomato, is a traditional Christmas dish, though in Sicily you’d use bacala, or salted cod.
Naturally, there’s also pizza in the Sicilian sheet pan style like the award-winning pies at Teglia. Catalano’s favorite is the Sfinciuni, topped with a tomato sauce of capers and anchovy.
Sfincione: a big sheet of dough topped with to
“It’s the kind they make on carts in Palermo,” he said. “I could eat it all day.”
The restaurant’s blue and orange pallette is echoed in the blue-tile marble bar and wall-mounted ceramic plates surrounding a vase filled with brightly colored plastic flowers. The flowers are made from confetti, the sugared Jordan almonds given out at Italian weddings, and were arranged by Catalano’s artist wife, Nicole. The bright placemats are the patterns of traditional Italian playing cards.
“I wanted it to be uplifting and airy,” he said. “I want you to have fun when you go out to dinner.”
Catalano said he’s not worried about standing out in the booming Montclair restaurant scene.
“I could throw a rock in any direction and hit an Italian restaurant,” he said. “We’re doing something different.”
Lunch service will begin in two weeks; reservations will be available on Resy beginning Wednesday. The restaurant is BYOB.