At this point in his career, with restaurants in Center City and Vegas and the chef’s role at the private Fitler Club, Marc Vetri can do anything he darn well pleases. And if it pleases him to convert a century-old Italian Market butcher shop into a 14-seat pasta bar open four nights a week, then that’s just what he’ll do.
Just before dusk Feb. 13, he flips the neon switch on the homespun Fiorella at 817 Christian St. in Bella Vista, borrowing not only the Fiorella family name but its sausage recipe, used in the rigatoni.
Now for the set-up at Fiorella: This is not intended as some fancy evening out. It may be just a mile from his Vetri Cucina in Center City, but this is a world away.
There are no reservations. You get your seat, you order, you eat an app and a pasta, you drink your wine, your beer, or your tap cocktail, and you skedaddle — all in like a half-hour, according to plan. If there’s a wait, leave your cell number and take a walk on Ninth Street.
Counter seating means you get to kibitz with chef Matt Rodrigue, a Maine native who moved here in 2003 to teach history at the George School in Bucks County and became so enthralled with the restaurant life that he changed careers — first to waiter and then to kitchen.
Menu is printed on a roll of butcher paper behind the counter: four antipasti ($12 to $18), six pastas ($17 to $22), and two desserts. It’s homey stuff. Initially, they’ve been playing with fried calamari in saor, pork terrine with pickles, fazzoletto (the “handkerchief” pasta) with an almond pesto, baccala agnolotti in brodo, ricotta gnocchi with fried leeks, and casoncelli alla bergamasca with sage and pancetta.
As for the atmosphere: Vetri and crew kept the building’s bones — better watch what I say, since it was a butcher shop — and a few original antiques. Luigi Fiorella’s floor scale from 1892 had to stay, as did the walk-in refrigerator.
Vetri added a magnificent purple Venetian chandelier to dance lights off the original tin ceiling. It was shipped over from his buddy Marco Rossi’s former restaurant L’Osteria Marcorossi in Paladina.
The circa-1901 cash register with the “Luigi Fiorella” nameplate behind the new, white marble counter? Also original. Funny story: Back in May, shortly after Dan and Trisha Fiorella sold his great-grandfather’s building, Dan stopped in for a meeting with Vetri and noticed that the cash register was gone. Grew legs, apparently.
Vetri sounded the alarm on social media, and two men found the register at an antiques shop in Northeast Philadelphia. Vetri got it back, and stashed it at his house, where his kids have been playing with it for the last nine months. It works perfectly.
When the point-of-sale techs stopped at Fiorella last week and hooked up the credit-card swiper, they asked where to put the computerized cash drawer. “No,” Vetri told them, firmly, pointing to the brass beast. “We’re using this for cash.”
Vetri got the pasta bar idea a few years ago as the fast-casual scene began heating up. But these joints sold precooked noodles. While working at the demo kitchen upstairs at Vetri Cucina, he figured that he could turn out made-to-order dishes in 3 minutes. A pop-up there confirmed it.
Fiorella is open 5 p.m. to whenever Thursday and Friday, 4 p.m. to whenever Saturday ad Sunday. Vetri plans to host special events — chef takeovers, wine dinners, pop-up farmers markets — on off days. Phone: 215-305-9222.