GOURMETS HAVE gone gaga over chef Luke Palladino down the Shore for years, so the excitement over his first Philly restaurant, Palladino's on Passyunk, reached a foodie fever pitch at Thursday night's opening.

"That's when the pipe burst," Palladino says yesterday morning at the cool, dark bar in front of his open kitchen on East Passyunk Avenue near Broad Street.

"We're washing lettuce in the big sink, the pipe breaks and everyone's walking in water," he says, savoring a demitasse of La Colombe espresso that he has just made in his Faema-E61 Legend S, the patriarch of espresso machines.

"And I'm standing in the middle of the chaos."

But Palladino is Iron Man in his kitchen. "I'm 45 years old," he says. "I still got it in me. I still work the line. I'm the pasta-maker, the bread-maker, the butcher."

And the emergency plumber. He fixes the pipe, washes the lettuce, serves 200 gourmet Italian dinners. How?

"I've got people who care deeply about this, like I do," Palladino says. "They breathe it."

Palladino nods toward Eddie Affinito, a chef who breathes it.

"Nice Italian boy," Palladino says. "Lives in Kensington. Eddie, you have a barbecue, I'll be over."

Affinito laughs and says, "How about instead I take you to One Pound Cheesesteaks?"

"Great!" Palladino says. "We'll go after work." He defines "after work" as follows: "I went to bed at 2:30 a.m. I'm up at 7 a.m. I'm always going a million miles a minute."

Palladino says that when his fiancee, Kristine Kurilko, notices him vanishing into the kitchen of his mind, she brings him back out.

"She tells me, 'Hey, you're not even here,' " Palladino says. "She tethers me back to earth."

He loves wood-grilling steaks and chops as much as he loves handcrafting pasta.

"Every day, I'm butchering for hours," he says happily. "I'm never out of the kitchen."

Because his kitchen is open, Palladino is never out of his diners' sight.

"It's all about making people feel warm," he says. "We're having you in my house for dinner. Welcome."

- Dan Geringer