First Bite: Pelato | Bites

Last Thursday, chef Anthony Scotto officially opened Pelato in Germantown at 1300 Third Ave. N., a spot that has previously been home to a string of anticipated and acclaimed restaurants that closed or moved fairly quickly for one reason or another. Among that list are Tailor, which moved into its own digs a little further down Taylor Street last year, as well as closed-down endeavors Kuchnia & Keller, Mop/Broom and Saint Stephen.

Scotto has already demonstrated his site-seeking acumen and prowess as a restaurateur by making a successful go of it with his first Nashville restaurant, Luogo, in a Gulch space that has also seen a short parade of restaurant tenants in Fin & Pearl and Pemrose. Will Scotto be able to succeed again in his latest incidence of “hermit crab” expansion strategy? Early signs are positive.

“Pelato” comes from an Italian term for a peeled tomato, a cheeky nod to Scotto’s bald pate and a hint at the cuisine to expect on the menu. He has subtitled the restaurant “the food we grew up on, est. Brooklyn, 1959.” This is indeed a menu that is reverential to the casual Italian fare of Scotto’s youth growing up. Served as small plates suitable for sharing, the menu is divided into sections of breads and salads, small vegetable-forward plates, tapas-size seafoods, pastas and meats.

The dishes are generally described as piccolo piatti, small dishes designed to build a full meal. The success of this concept may well depend on an innovative ordering system that Pelato has employed to streamline the work in the kitchen and service.

During a preview dinner, several diners near our table (and at our table — OK, it was me) were a little baffled by the system. Diners scan a QR code upon sitting down, a common experience in the post-pandemic restaurant world, but instead of just pulling up a digital menu, you must actually register for the website. The next step is entering contact and payment info, before actually opening a running tab. Multiple diners at the table can either sign onto the tab or set up their own separate billing.

Pelato Dishes.jpg

Once all this is accomplished (really it only took a couple of minutes), you’re basically speaking directly to the printer in the kitchen. Put in your drink orders and a couple of small starters, and before you know it, runners are approaching your table with the first salvo. While all the runners are empowered to deliver to any table, you will have a dedicated server to handle the hospitality side of the meal and answer any questions.

Ideally, this could be a fantastic way to progress through a shared-plate menu. Instead of guessing in advance how big each course is and how many it will take to fill everyone up at the table, diners can just keep adding to the same tab as they proceed.

Wish you’d ordered a few more of those delicious meatballs al forno? Click here for another order. Finished your frozen Aperol spritz before your dining companion is done with her Lemon Pinot Freezio, but you don’t feel like waiting for your waiter to come around to the table? Getcha another one ASAP! Call an audible halfway through the meal and decide you’d like a bottle of the excellent Italian red you’re enjoying instead of continuing by the glass? Don’t mind if you do!

If the kitchen can stay in sync with the ebbs and flows of the large bustling dining room at Pelato, this could revolutionize the experience by giving you the diner the power to course out your own meal. One danger could be if the kitchen just starts firing popular dishes like the Chicago beef sandwiches on review day in The Bear only to hit a slowdown in orders. At our meal, a few dishes did come out almost immediately after ordering, but a little cool, looking like they were prepared before we ordered. It was a pre-opening training meal, so I certainly won’t hold that against the busy kitchen. Just a potential caveat.

I can imagine it might be difficult to figure out exactly how busy the restaurant is at any particular time, because it’s a large space divided up into several sections. It’s intentionally a loud place thanks to the previous warehouse interior, so it always sounds like a party is going on, perfect for the old-school Brooklyn trattoria vibe that chef Scotto is looking to share.

As far as the menu goes, the kitchen was offering only half the menu on this training cruise. They had rehearsed the other half the evening before, so they should be hitting the ground running by now.

Standout dishes for our table included the Pelato salad. (Yeah, right? Chamberlain is recommending a salad!) This was a great starter, especially considering many of the most appealing vegetable dishes weren’t on offer during our evening. Crisp iceberg served as a bed for strips of salami, provolone and red onion, along with slices of pickled peppers that were delightful spicy surprises. A tangy oregano vinaigrette tied all the flavors together nicely.

Another favorite was the polenta Bolognese, a creamy dish with a deeply rich tomato sauce. We dipped the garlic bread in it until the bowl was clean enough to skip the dishwasher.

We also really enjoyed the cavatelli alla salsiccia, a plate of toothy pasta served with sausage, garlic, Parmesan Reggiano, broccoli rabe and a white wine butter sauce. I could have used a little more of the broccoli rabe at that point in the meal, but it was a fantastic dish. (I know, I know. What is wrong with me?)

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Considering its size and staffing needs, it seems hard to imagine Pelato as just needing to be a neighborhood favorite to thrive. It will have to fill up with Germantownies, fans of celebrity chefs, foodie tourists and more.

But that’s all OK. Scotto has designed a restaurant and an experience that can cater to all those groups without pandering to any of them. All he wants is for you to sit down, embrace the surrounding din and start ordering until there’s no real estate left on your table. Then order again when they clear the plates. (But I’d hate to be the one to explain that ordering system to a couple from Iowa who are in town to catch John Conlee at the Opry.)

Pelato is serving dinner Tuesday through Saturday, plus a special Sunday Supper menu. Make reservations on Resy.

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