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The Little Details 

Two local Italian pop-ups, Sprezza and Oro, put down roots.

click to enlarge Angela Petruzzelli (pictured here with her family’s lasagna) started her “rustic, whimsical, southern Italian” pasta concept, Sprezza, at Broken Tulip this March.

Scott Elmquist

Angela Petruzzelli (pictured here with her family’s lasagna) started her “rustic, whimsical, southern Italian” pasta concept, Sprezza, at Broken Tulip this March. 

From carefully shaped little ears of orecchiette that capture scratch-made broccoli cream sauce just so, to fall-apart-flaky house-made puff pastries, there’s something incredibly intimate about an Italian meal.

“My earliest memories of food are from Italy,” says Angela Petruzzelli, who started popping up with her “rustic, whimsical, southern Italian” pasta concept, Sprezza, at Broken Tulip this March. 

Petruzzelli’s father was born in southern Italy in a small town outside of port city Bari on the Adriatic Sea, and she grew up spending summers in this halcyon sphere. 

“My favorite dish, which is the first I learned to make, is my family’s lasagna,” Petruzzelli says. “The sauce takes eight hours – which sounds a little crazy that that was the first thing I learned to make – and that’s now our most popular dish and we sell out of it first every time.”

The Miami native moved to Richmond mid-March of 2020 and was immediately taken with the River City’s pop-up scene. “Pop-ups are not a thing in Miami,” she says. “I thought this was a really cool way to get started without going into a full brick and mortar.” 

Petruzzelli put her lockdown hours to good use, cooking and testing recipes with some assistance from her mom and “nonna” (grandmother) in Italy. “They’d help me scale recipes – when we cook for our family in Italy, it’s always 10-12 people,” Petruzzelli says. “Making this food for 30 to 50 people is a completely different monster.”

With nearly 1,000 Instagram followers, Sprezza has garnered quite the fan base in a short time. Petruzzelli says connecting with the talented folks at Broken Tulip was “like kismet” and that she plans to continue her weekly pop-up there for the foreseeable future. “We’re so happy at the Tulip, they’re so inspiring to work with.”

Sprezza’s Saturday lunch menu includes traditional sandwiches like salami and mozzarella and mortadella and pecorino plus rotating puff pastries stuffed to the brim with both sweet and savory fillings like almond ricotta, Nutella and tomato passata pugliese. 

Dinner includes antipasti and entrees like pomodorini with cream, pancetta, shallot and parmigiano and lasagna bolognese with local beef, passata pugliese and mozzarella. 

Petruzzelli says she’s still in awe of how welcoming Richmond has been since her pandemic relocation. “There’s such a sense of community,” she says. “Everyone is like ‘Let’s help you get to where you want to go.’” 

Petruzzelli has thought about investing in her own storefront, she says, but she’s not in any rush. “I want it to be the right restaurant, to feel like a restaurant in Italy,” she says. “I think I’ll know it when I see it.”

Oro joins Hatch Local

For Laine Myers, whose résumé includes cheffing at Metzger Bar & Butchery, Graffiato, and, most recently, Nota Bene, developing pasta and vegetable concept Oro was a pandemic inevitability.

“I had this idea and decided it’s sort of now or never,” Myers says. “I’m either going to dive in full speed ahead with Oro or get a job and just kind of muscle through the pandemic. There was a fork in the road and I decided to not have a penny to my name and put it all toward doing this,” she laughs.

Myers’ gamble paid off – Oro joins six other local vendors at the city’s first food hall, Hatch Local, this summer. Myers has been hard at work crafting gorgeous dishes in the Hatch Cafe pop-up space since January, serving Oro dinners 5-8 p.m. Mondays and Sundays. 

Myers’ creations are almost too beautiful to eat, and certainly don’t resemble the hastily prepared dishes we may associate with itinerant concepts. 

click to enlarge Oro joins six other local vendors at the city’s first food hall, Hatch Local, this summer. Pictured is the Capocollo Ravioli – ricotta, confit garlic, Sunday gravy and picked oregano. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Oro joins six other local vendors at the city’s first food hall, Hatch Local, this summer. Pictured is the Capocollo Ravioli – ricotta, confit garlic, Sunday gravy and picked oregano.

The capellini alle vongole with clams, saffron, pepperoncino and smoked tomato butter adorned with edible flowers looks like it could be the cover photo for a Michelin restaurant. The herb laminated fazzoletti and vegan nettle raviolo are works of art you almost ache to see placed in a to-go box. 

But the amalgamation of artfully prepared, comforting dishes served via a fast casual, counter service model is perhaps the greatest (only?) boon of the pandemic. 

Now, Myers is concentrating on how she’ll translate her pop-up menu to a seven-day lunch and dinner model situated in what’s sure to be a bustling food hall. 

“We want to curate a menu around all of the dishes that have been hits over the course of the residency,” she says. “We’ll always have rotating seasonal options, keeping it pretty streamlined and appropriate for the volume of fast casual.”

While Oro’s current Hatch Cafe Monday and Sunday pop-ups allow Myers time to perfect final preparations for each dish, she knows that the 200-square-foot Hatch Local vendor stall will force her to streamline her process even further. 

“When you come to get food from the pop-up now, I’m always adding seasoning and tasting again and again,” Myers says. “I’ve got to think of ways to include everything in beforehand. Those little details hack away at the time, but those little details will be so crucial to all of those dishes that have been really popular.” 

Sprezza pops up at the Broken Tulip every Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for brunch and 4:30 to 7 p.m. for dinner. Follow its Instagram @sprezzacucina for new menu items and announcements about pre-orders – they sell out fast!

Oro dishes are available for pickup every Sunday and Monday from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at Hatch Cafe. Pre-orders go live the Wednesday or Thursday beforehand. 

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