Helping Revive A Forgotten Block

| 02 Mar 2015 | 05:05

A strip that once saw onlylow-end retail is experiencinga culinary renaissance

Opening a trendy, Lower East Side-style eatery on the nearly deserted West 8th Street was a bold move. Over the past two years, the block's many hat shops, shoe stores, and smoke shops have shuttered their doors for good, leaving still-vacant retail space behind.

Always up for a challenge, Nick Boccio, owner of the Greenwich Project (47 W. 8th Street between Sixth Avenue and MacDougal Street), chose to move in anyway, bringing trendy, fine dining options with him.

"West Village residents are still popping their heads in and saying, 'What are you doing here on 8th Street?' It's a forgotten block, and we definitely stand out," says the former general manager of Meatpacking District hot spot Bagatelle, known for its wild champagne brunches.

People said the same thing when he brought Mulberry Project to Little Italy, or, as he calls it, "red sauce city."

"When we opened Mulberry Project, other businesses laughed at us for bringing a speakeasy-style spot into the area," he recalls. "Mulberry is extremely trendy - but we built great relationships with the neighborhood, so we have repeat local customers day in and day out."

While Greenwich Project has recently begun serving brunch on weekends, there will be no drunk dancing on the tables.

"Those days are behind us," said Boccio, who still lives in the Meatpacking District.

However, he has been bringing in DJs to provide "curated music" on Friday and Saturday nights - essentially, Boccio says, a guy spinning vinyls.

Boccio hopes that the restaurant will revitalize the block, and, so far, they've been successful. Since they first opened back in April, a number of other unique, independent eateries have sprung up, including a yogurt spot called Culture, gourmet popcorn store Populence, and Stumptown Coffee.

Boccio and his team built the space themselves, creating a homey downstairs area that, "Feels like you're in your kitchen - well, more like your Hamptons kitchen," he says, with its sleek white bar, burnt-orange colored banquets, and a rotating roster of artwork. The upstairs dining room, adorned with whimsical pop art, pays homage to what it used to be: a comic book shop. It features cozy, coffee-colored banquets, low-lit chandeliers and whitewashed brick.

As far as food goes, The Greenwich and Mulberry Project's executive chef Carmine Di Giovanni's vision was to mix "simple flavors and complex technique," techniques he learned by working with world-renowned chefs like Mario Batali, Daniel Boulud and David Burke.

The menu is predominately focused on American fare with European influence, and Di Giovanni makes everything in-house himself, down to the salt in certain dishes. Dinner is pricey (average entrees and sharing plates are $23-$39), with dishes like an Open Face Boudin Blanc with pickled red cabbage confit and Porcelet De Lait served with peach, jalapeño, caramel ginger, and cilantro. Brunch is standard, price-wise ($8-$15), and features fresh juices, fruity pancakes and French toast, and savory egg dishes like Pork Belly Hash and Truffled Egg Salad.

"This block never had handcrafted food, it's a lot of grab and go places. We want to liven it up and make culinary food approachable," Boccio said.

Next month, they plan to launch a proper English high tea service upstairs on Saturdays and Sundays from 2-5pm, which, like brunch, is family friendly.

"We try to attract the cool trendy crowd, but it's hard to stay in that spot for a long time," said Boccio. "What we really want is to become a neighborhood staple."