When Lisabet Summa and her Big Time Restaurant Group partners opened Elisabetta’s in downtown Delray Beach in the summer of 2019, she was inspired by her travels to Italy and her monumental collection of cookbooks. She drew on the legacy of her Italian father, whose wish to name her Elisabetta at birth was dashed by more Americanized minds in the family.
West Palm Beach by Elisabetta
At the time, Summa knew that opening any fine dining restaurant during the off-season presented challenges in a seasonal area. But now, with the opening on Tuesday of a second Elisabetta restaurant in downtown West Palm Beach, those challenges seem strange. Before this new beginning, his thoughts were consumed with more current issues than culinary inspiration.
What a difference 18 months and a pandemic make.
“Everything is different because of COVID – it all turned the industry upside down,” says Summa, who is Big Time’s corporate culinary director, heading the kitchens for the group’s seven restaurant concepts. (They are City Cellar, Rocco’s Tacos, Louie Bossi’s, City Oyster, Grease, Big City Tavern, and Elisabetta’s.)
The striking new Elisabetta’s restaurant on the downtown waterfront is as much an act of defiance as it is a new business venture. There were days when Summa wondered how this would come about at such a difficult time.
“It has been a very moving experience to work through this,” says Summa. But after the first layoffs, the group’s more than 1,600 employees are back, she said. “And we’re hiring like crazy.
Despite the coronavirus crisis and its severe impact on the restaurant industry across the country, Summa and partners Todd Herbst and Bill Watson have redoubled their long-standing plans to open the second Elisabetta’s.
It would not be an easy task. The sprawling 10,000 square foot restaurant perched in a prime corner of the downtown waterfront sports a tiered patio, retro gazebos, a soaring fireplace, full-size bocce court, and other luxury amenities. (Think of the outdoor pizza oven and vintage ice cream cart.)
“We were here, building a restaurant in the middle of a pandemic. It was unprecedented. I felt like everything had to stop. But the world doesn’t work like that, ”she said. “I feel like I have been holding my breath so many nights, and then it was like ‘Field of Dreams’ – if we build it, they will come, right?”
It is the registered trademark Summa. She prefers to focus on interesting details, like how the weather in South Florida allows for year-round outdoor dining – luckily at a time when patrons are clamoring for patio seating.
“Who would have thought we would be the luckiest?” ” she says.
Outdoor seating options
With almost half of its total seating capacity scattered outside, under a covered patio, Elisabetta maximizes the al fresco option. The restaurant can accommodate 150 people outside.
That said, the restaurant’s preparation for its debut has encountered setbacks related to the pandemic. Shipment delays and supply shortages have slowed the arrival of a European industrial mixer, a vital appliance for Elisabetta’s scratching kitchen. The machine can mix 400 pounds of dough at a time, a godsend for a restaurant that makes all of their bread, pasta and pizza dough on site. Summa had to swap out a much smaller mixer for the job and crossed her fingers that processing just 50 pounds of dough at a time would be a temporary thing.
She was worried about the restaurant’s three Neapolitan wood-fired pizza ovens, built from Italian volcanic earth. Would they arrive on time? Fortunately, they did.
As for all the pandemic security measures that had to be put in place, the catering group formalized them months ago for its multiple concepts. The new Elisabetta would reap the benefits of these 10 months of practice.
Summa says that despite the new layers of procedures imposed by the pandemic, she continues to connect with the restaurant’s original inspirations. She re-enacts memories of the trip to Italy she took with Elisabetta’s executive chef, Andris Salmanis, after the Delray store opened in July 2019. They traveled from Rome to Sicily.
“Sicily was amazing. In some ways it was like being in South Florida. I thought there might be a good comparison to our climate and our seasonal ingredients. And I wanted Andris to experience Roman cuisine, ”Summa says.
The purpose of the trip was to highlight the importance of hand-prepared meals and hand-made ingredients.
“Everything we do in restaurants is what you might call artisanal, from our breads and pasta to our homemade salumi. I wanted him to experience this. It takes an amazing leader to handle all of these elements and I know he will continue to do so, ”she said.
Earlier memories take her to the planning stages of the early Elisabettas, when she was fond of details like finding the perfect ceramic pattern for restaurant plates. She worked with a prominent London textile designer to create a color palette that evoked the Italy of her memories.
Those days seem like there always are. But what has not changed is his approach to cooking, favoring ingredients in the service of classics.
“Our restaurant is truly a tribute to tradition, with a solid menu of familiar and popular dishes. It’s not about being too far removed from the rich heritage of Italian cuisine, ”says Summa.
No one in Elisabetta’s kitchen tries to brighten up Italian dishes, and that’s the point, says Summa.
“It’s not a restaurant for a chef to be innovative,” she says.
On the menu, this translates into a wide selection of trattoria options: a variety of wood-fired pizzas, long and short pasta dishes, meats and fish cooked on a wood-burning grill (including steaks with bones that are dry – aged on site), salads and antipasti, a cold cuts and cheese bar, ice creams and other sweets.
In addition to serving some 70 wines by the glass and offering a wine list that includes 400 wines by the bottle, there is a full cocktail bar.
In conventional high season, the restaurant’s bells and whistles would be enough to pack the place right off the bat. But Summa knows there is nothing conventional about this dining season. Still, she believes there is reason to hope the bustling restaurant days will return.
“People are making predictions for a post-pandemic world and certainly I can see how that can change the landscape of office life. But when it comes to restaurants, I really think people will be clamoring to go into restaurants, ”she says. “There are so many things to miss in them: the conviviality of a shared meal, the chance of conversations. I believe restaurants are here to stay.
that of Elisabetta
- Opening dates: Debuts Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021 at 5 p.m. for dinner; the weekend brunch started on Saturday January 16; the lunch service begins on Monday January 18th.
- Place: 185 Banyan Blvd., in downtown West Palm Beach, on the waterfront
- Online reservations and orders: Reservations are accepted through OpenTable.com and can be accessed through Elisabettas.com, which offers an online ordering tab. Elisabetta Phone Number: 561-342-6699
- Menu: A variety of wood-fired pizzas, homemade pasta dishes, meats and fish cooked on a wood-burning grill, including dry-aged, bone-in steaks, salads and antipasti, homemade cold cuts and cheeses, homemade ice cream and other sweets.
- Complete bar: 70 wines by the glass, 400 wines by the bottle, craft beers, craft cocktail bar.