Vesta's Giuseppe Falco Reflects on the Astoria Restaurant Community, Giant Squash, and Baby Jesus Cake
Photo courtesy of Vesta The dining room of Vesta, Giuseppe Falco's first restaurant in Astoria.
Three years ago, Giuseppe Falco partnered with Leo Sacco to open Vesta Trattoria. The seasonally focused Italian restaurant and wine bar quickly earned an enthusiastic following in Astoria, a neighborhood whose dining options were overwhelmingly Greek. Vesta proved so successful that Falco, Sacco, and their chef, Michelle Vido, went on to open a second restaurant, Pachanga Patterson, this February. Inspired by the Mexican-influenced dishes that Mexican restaurant cooks often make for staff meals, it introduced Astoria to dishes like moo shoo duck tacos and veggie jenga.
We checked in with Falco to learn more about his work, and ended up talking with him about everything from neighborhood demographics to Baby Jesus. Check back tomorrow for the second half of our interview.
You grew up in Ridgewood and moved to Astoria after high school. How did you decide to open a restaurant there?
I was living a few blocks away from where Vesta is now. I was working in restaurants in the city for several years and it seemed like it was difficult to go out and get a bowl of spaghetti [in Astoria]. There was nothing like, let's say Frankies or little places where you could walk in for wine or dinner or a cup of coffee. It felt under-serviced, so it made a lot of sense. We found a space and went for it.
Which restaurants did you work for in Manhattan?
I was the general manager for Bond 45 and Trattoria dell'Arte. I worked in both for about six years.
Had you always wanted to go into the restaurant business?
You know, from the time I was about 17 or 16, that's all I ever wanted to do. My family doesn't really come from a restaurant background -- they've always owned businesses, but furniture businesses. I knew I wanted to own my own business, and wanted my own restaurant.
What kind of food did you grow up eating?
Very, very traditional Sicilian food. Both my parents are from Sicily. I ate tons of fish growing up -- it was pretty much on the table three or four nights a week. A lot of things like sardines and anchovies, things that weren't staples in anyone else's household, were things we ate all the time. Things like cucuzza, which is a super-long squash. You prep it like a zucchini, but it's got tons more flavor. You can put it in soup and pasta. We put it in a soup [at Vesta]; Brooklyn Grange grows it for us, and we start serving it in July.
Do you get most of your produce from them?
Yeah. During the five or six months they grow, we get almost everything from them. It's a great relationship: They grow things specifically for us, which is awesome. When you're dealing with farmers upstate, you're taking whatever they're offering. That's great, but there's something to be said about saying, "Next year I'd like to have tons of sorrel," and being able to get it.
Your menu changes with the seasons, but what are you attached to right now?
One thing I love is the pesto. When people say pesto they think basil, but ours is made from parsley and pine nuts. I'm in love with it; it's so amazing, and you can do anything with it. A month ago we were serving ramp pesto with house-made mozzarella, and it was pretty awesome. It's really flexible what you can do with pesto.
We also do a Milanese made with pork butt, which is another thing that's underutilized. It's such a great thing to do Milanese with because it has some fat to it. People do Milanese with things that are really lean and sometimes lack flavor, and the texture feels like rubber meat. But pork butt is awesome: We pound it, bread it, and serve it with balsamic pickled onions and arugula from the farm.