A Piece of Northern Italy in Williamsburg

At Osteria il Paiolo, Chef Alex Palumbo takes pride in crafting superb dishes and treating diners like family

Osteria il Paiolo is a gem and a welcome addition to Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
A Piece of Northern Italy in Williamsburg
Panna cotta with chocolate sauce. (Stefano Ortega)

Osteria il Paiolo is a gem and a welcome addition to Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

The neighborhood is a hip place, reminiscent of a European-style neighborhood with a touch of youth, fun, and whimsical with a little funkiness, without being contrived. It's easily accessible for Manhattanites—worth the trip and only a hop and a skip from Manhattan.

Osteria il Paiolo stands like a mirage, an oasis in the desert among the local eateries. The interior is like a trendy art gallery surrounded by brick walls mounted with artwork and includes paintings by local artists. 

It is spacious with room for comfort and privacy for the guests. One gets a sense of being spoiled: a cozy and welcoming atmosphere with great service. One visual attraction is the restaurant's pepper grinder that servers bring to your table for a taste of the freshly ground spice— it might be the largest one in the world.

Alex Palumbo, a talented chef, is the owner, host, and cook. He welcomes you with open arms and a big smile. Chef Palumbo cooks for you and also serves you. Such personal service is rare, but he is passionate about food and treats his diners like family. 

Palumbo brings his modern creativity and care to traditional northern Italian dishes. He is a lucky man since he is one of the few who knows how to balance his time between work and family. If I were a cynic, I would not have listened to my friend's suggestion to go all the way to Williamsburg, but I am glad I did. Each time I've visited, I've been given more pleasant surprises.

The best ingredients are hand-selected. A man on a mission, Palumbo goes to the meat and fish market about 2 a.m. to pick up the freshest ingredients, resulting in jaw-dropping surprises for his guests.

Polenta, pasta, gnocchi, and sausage are among the main, traditional house-made ingredients. Hence the name Paiolo, which is the traditional pot used to make polenta, common in northern Italy. 

The menu is a selection of eclectic northern Italian dishes. Antipasti include a variety of homemade pasta, a wide selection of polenta dishes, and secondi. Some look glamorous, with vibrant colors and bursting flavors, while others induce nostalgia and satisfy the yearning for your mother's and grandmother's food. There are salads, poultry, fish, other meat dishes, pizza, and house-made desserts.

I never turn down the organic beet salad ($12.50). It was layered with green leaves and sprinkled with crushed walnuts, goat cheese, and drizzled with vinaigrette dressing. How can anyone turn down such a beautiful blend of colors and flavors: the sweet, earthy beets, the slight sharpness of the cheese, and the nuttiness of the walnuts?

The artichoke soup was a revelation. I was stunned by its beauty. In the middle of the dish sat a small, thin, squared crostini topped with chopped shrimp and micro greens that made it top-notch. It looked just like an island in a pond of pure green artichoke jade. The flavor was elegant, intense, and ranged from smooth and comforting to crunchy, with a hint of sweet and pepper. I meditated over each mouthful.

All menu items are so tempting, but one must start somewhere. Chocolate lovers will devour the Chocolate Pappardelle with wild boar ragu and vegetables ($16.50), or the classic Tagliatelle with Bolognese meat sauce ($15.50), a blend of beef, veal, pork, and chicken liver, cooked my favorite way, al dente.

I felt nostalgic over those two dishes, particularly the tomato sauce that lingered on the palate like a host of seductive melodies. Without realizing it, I took a piece of the delicious bread and sopped the sauce off the dish. Moments later, I realized that my dining companion was doing the same.

The sausage with cabbage and tomato sauce was another gustatory thrill. Not an ounce of acidity but sweet flavors with a lingering and playful feel of spice from the sausage. Of course, we asked for another basket of bread to sop up the sauce.

While Ossobucco Alla Milanese ($32.50), or braised veal shank, is famous, there are many other interesting dishes to choose from. Branzino Al Forno ($27.50), roasted with black olives, cherry tomatoes, and baby fennel is the true expression of Mediterranean elements: hearty, refined, and very expressive.

The weekend brunch menu is as exciting as the dinner menu. Adjusted according to the season, it offers a number of egg dishes with polenta. I love the way those dishes are served—rustic style in terra cotta dishes from the wood-burning ovens. 

Like Le Uova Del Paiolo, poached, breaded, and fried eggs with polenta muffin ($11.50) or Eggs Benedict on a polenta muffin ($10), but my personal choice would be either the Florentine omelet, or the eggs with cherry tomatoes ($11.50) served in terra cotta dish and baked in a wood-burning oven. The rustic look brings wonderful memories of good old days. That is what makes a meal—a perfect meal—the memories, the ambiance, the friends, and the family.

Let the desserts surprise you! 

Osteria il Paiolo is family friendly and serves a diverse but sophisticated clientele.

Osteria Il Paiolo
106 N. 6th St.
(between Wythe Avenue & Berry Street) 
Brooklyn, NY 11211 
Dinner: Monday through Saturday 5 p.m.–midnight, Sunday 5 p.m.–11 p.m.
Pizza: Monday through Wednesday 5 p.m.–midnight
Brunch: Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m.–5 p.m.
Lunch: Monday through Friday 12 p.m.–4 p.m.