CELEBRATED RESTAURATEURS BRING GOURMET SOUTHERN FARE TO STATEN ISLAND AT THEIR NEWEST CULINARY OUTPOST
BY JESSICA JONES GORMAN • PHOTOS BY AMANDA DOMENECH AND DAVE GIORDANO
For Sally Farinacci Curtis, family was everything. A mother of four, grandmother, and great grandmother to eight, the beloved matriarch made an event out of Sundays and holidays, gathering her brood around a dinner table, plates clanging while the crowd celebrated all of life’s little occasions. Her ever-resounding mantra? “Live, love, laugh.”
“All of my best childhood memories took place around her dinner table,” noted her granddaughter, Amanda Farinacci Gonzalez. “In the months before she died, we talked a lot about the importance of those meals, the noisy and sometimes chaotic coming together of our noisy and sometimes chaotic family. So when I heard there was going to be a restaurant built in her memory, I thought immediately that it would be mission impossible. How could there possibly be a place that would make me feel the way meals at her house did? The answer is there can’t be, but Sally’s Southern comes really close.”
Located on a bustling corner of Forest Avenue, situated among some of the borough’s most popular eateries, the restaurant feels like home. Built in a converted two-family West Brighton house that was completely renovated for the purpose, the space is splashed in a palette of Sally’s favorite colors, a cluster of bright red cardinals popping up almost everywhere you look.
Her recipes serve as the inspiration for the menu, which is printed using a sample of her handwriting. A gigantic neon sign in that same font announces her presence as soon as you enter: “Live, Love, Laugh” is emblazoned on the wall.
“I had a hard time looking at the menu and the sign on the wall, written in the same handwriting that’s on dozens of the notes and cards I received from her throughout my life,” Farinacci Gonzalez continued. “But I love it. It makes me feel like she’s still here, encouraging me to do the hard thing, to laugh more, and to keep showing up. I think she’d love the menu and its special touches just like she always made. Simple food that just tastes good. It’s as an organic place as you’ll find, in that it’s really grown from the love for a great person.”
Owned and operated by Sally’s son, Phil Farinacci, and his business partner and executive chef Peter Botros, the restaurant is considered Staten Island’s first gourmet Southern bistro, serving a sampling of ribs, cobbler, and fried chicken. But for the epicurean duo, who are the masterminds behind other borough hotspots like Violette’s Cellar, Rustic Pizza and Pasteria, the Stone House, Chef’s Loft, and Sofia’s Taqueria, this restaurant is personal.
“We lived down south for a short time in Little Rock, Arkansas,” Farinacci said. “She loved it there, especially the food. She was definitely a southern type of gal. Everyone who met her loved her. In addition to her own family, she was the ‘adopted’ mother to so many of our extended family and friends.”
The restaurant’s three different types of meatloaf and fried chicken (battered in secret spices and served with house honey) are versions of her recipes. The menu is rounded out by some of Botros’ typical gourmand contributions: blue crab beignets, catfish, shrimp or oyster po’boys with a pickle aioli, and a Georgia peach salad smothered in vanilla vinaigrette.
“Whenever you’re tackling a new cuisine, it’s always a challenge but it’s also a lot of fun,” noted Botros. “Phil and I did a lot of research, a lot of tasting and trial and error. I pulled together all of my prior knowledge as well as my experience visiting places like Savannah, New Orleans, Texas, Florida, and Charleston. Eating in all of those towns I had very vivid memories of the dishes I ate. I took what was very classically southern and put a little bit of a modern twist on it while still staying within the heart and soul of the dish.”
Signature dishes include shrimp and grits, biscuits and gravy, fried oysters, and lobster gumbo.
“There’s a vast array of southern influences at play here,” said Botros. “This is not specifically New Orleans or Texas it’s an eclectic mix of variety from different areas.” There’s southern inspired cocktails too.
Strawberry mint juleps are served alongside magnolia margaritas. And the drink menu features an entire old-fashioned “library,” offering nine different variations of the classic cocktail including PB&J, apple, and root beer versions.
“When the world is ready and COVID restrictions allow it, we’re planning on hosting bourbon dinners and craft beer events every month,” added Botros. “We currently run daily specials Monday is Beer, Bourbon, and Burgers, Wednesday is Lobster Night, Sunday is our Seafood Boil, and brunch is every Saturday and Sunday. We hope to expand upon that in the future.” And it’s all in honor of Sally.
“Phil and Peter have done my heart a huge favor in creating this place, and I hope everyone who goes there has some curiosity about who Sally was,” said Farinacci Gonzalez. “I’ll gladly tell them she was the best cook I ever met, the woman who taught me to roll with the punches and laugh more than I cry, and the friend I miss every day. Sally’s makes me feel more connected to her, and I hope patrons there feel that, too.”
“There’s a vast array of southern influences at play here.”
“In the short time I had the extreme privilege of having her in my life, it was clear that she was special,” added Botros of his friendship with Sally. “She was the kind of person that could infect those around her with her warmth, smile, and heartfelt laughter. It’s my honor to be a part of this beautiful tribute to a beautiful woman.”
427 Forest Avenue / 718.727.2559 / sallyssouthern.com