The Pavesi oven is a top commercial brand, pumping out crispy, charred pizzas in minutes. But don’t expect classic Margheritas or blistered pepperoni pies from the wood-fired Pavesi at Scarsdale’s El Barrio, the newest restaurant by chef/co-owner Sal Cucullo.
Instead, arising from the flame-licked oven mouth come roasted sweet bananas, fiery jalapeño rellenos, open-face quesadillas with toppings such as braised short rib or chayote (a Mexican squash), and the El Barrio Burger, wrapped in a flour tortilla with fig jam and Oaxaca cheese.
Cucullo, who owns nearby Modern Italian The 808 Bistro, considered the abundance of Italian restaurants in the county, especially in the area, and debuted El Barrio, a modern take on Mexican fare, March 15 (in the space that previously housed 808 Social, the more casual Italian sibling to The 808 Bistro).
The timing of the debut made things a tough go. “We attempted a takeout business to start due to the onset of the pandemic,” says Cucullo, a White Plains resident. “But it was shaky, so we closed after about three weeks and reopened in May.”
According to Cucullo, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. “We tightened the menu, tweaked recipes. In the end, it turned out to be a necessary practice.”
El Barrio’s menu of Mexican street fare features such dishes as corn-off-the-cob drizzled with chipotle aioli, queso fundido with house-made chorizo, wood-fired lobster quesadilla with pineapple salsa, a crispy fluke taco, and a flatiron steak topped with onions in an avocado sauce. For dessert: house-made churro ice-cream sandwiches.
Cucullo, a 1997 CIA graduate, grew up in the industry, so he’s familiar with its potential ups and downs. He made his first pizza while working at his grandfather’s 5 Brothers Pizza at 204th and Bainbridge in the Bronx. “I was good at eating the profits,” he quips. His first official job was as a dishwasher at age 15 at Fratelli in New Rochelle, owned by his father and uncles.
As for the pandemic changing the way he thinks about running a restaurant, “I got more aggressive with takeout and simplified the menu,” he explains. “Also, I change the menu more often. It’s a case of more than just weathering the storm; you have to look far forward and adapt to these times. It’s a big wake-up call, keeping you on your toes.”
185 Summerfield St