Sunday suppers with his Italian-American family in New York City were an important tradition for Anthony Pepe.
His paternal grandmother, Rosie, would host until she passed away, and for her, the more mouths to feed, the better.
“Come over with your friends,” Pepe recalls she would say. “Before you know it, in 20 minutes you have a spread out, like literally the last supper. The sauce, and the meatballs, and the red sauce, pastas.”
Pepe took that culinary influence, and, through working with and studying a series of well-known Italian chefs while he worked as a bartender and beverage director in New York, he’s developed his own style under the name The Pasta Addict that if all goes well will have a brick-and-mortar location in the Greenville area within the year.
His concept is to serve approachable, quick, fresh pasta in a casual, trendy environment. He’ll make all of his pasta by hand, and all sauces will be made in-house.
“Those Sunday mornings, you smell meat frying in the red sauce. I love that, but I also love that true Italian, real-deal Italian,” he says.
Pepe and his wife, Jennifer, and their two young children, Anthony, 7, and Adrienne, 4, moved to Simpsonville in August 2017 from Long Island. Jennifer Pepe’s parents had moved to the area 12 years ago, and when her mother died suddenly a year ago, the Pepes decided to move closer to her father.
The timing worked out with Anthony’s job with a restaurant group ending, and he and Jennifer were looking for a change of pace.
“We were busting our butts up there,” Jennifer says, explaining that they both took different trains into the city for work and rarely spent time together with their children.
After moving, Anthony landed a job bartending at Jianna, and Jennifer does in-home child care, allowing her to stay home. But on Monday nights — Anthony’s night off — when the two would want to go out for dinner and get some good Italian, they discovered most of the local options were closed.
He had started perfecting his own classic Italian dishes at home for the last few years, so instead of eating out, he ramped up his in-home cooking, getting the kids involved in rolling out the pasta dough, and Jennifer started photographing the finished products and posting them on Instagram under the handle @ThePastaAddict. After enough positive feedback and serious discussion, they decided to start looking at bringing the concept to the general public.
Sweet Sippin’ in Simpsonville recently hosted The Pasta Addict pop-up, which was the Pepes’ first foray into cooking for a crowd. They’re also tweaking a business plan and looking for a permanent location near downtown Greenville.
“There’s a void here for fresh pasta,” he says, adding that a casual and accessible atmosphere are key differences from most Italian restaurants that serve fresh pasta locally.
Anthony Pepe’s inspiration to rethink the version of Italian cooking he grew up with came from first tasting the veal ragu served at Bar Italia, which was run by Denis Franceschini, the former executive corporate chef for the Cipriani Group in New York.
“When I first had his ragu, I was mind blown,” he says. “What is this? What am I eating right now? That’s where I always say the addiction started.”
Other inspiration came from chefs Scott Conant, seen on the TV show “Chopped,” and Mark Ladner, Mario Batali’s executive chef.
What Anthony learned through trial and error at home was the “montecare” method, which Italian cooks use to emulsify the fat in starchy dishes.
“Starch in the pasta water is the most important thing. It’s liquid gold,” he says.
And to counter a popular misunderstanding about Italian cooking, Anthony says true Italian cooking is simple and fresh, and it doesn’t have to be smothered and overwhelmingly heavy.
He uses an Italian cocktail to make his point.
“Let’s take the negroni for example. The cocktail. Three ingredients: gin, Campari, sweet vermouth,” he says.
He compares that to traditional spaghetti pomodoro, which is garlic, basil, tomato, and olive oil. The trick, he says, is allowing the pasta water to reduce and emulsify with the fat to create that addictive creaminess.
“That’s the whole thing. It’s really the technique,” Anthony says.
Follow @ThePastaAddict to view their tasty dishes, progress, and for future pop-up information.