Crazy About Pazzo

by: Marianne R. Stanton

photography by: Nicole Harnishfeger

“I love this business. I love making people happy, I love creating a space where people can get together and enjoy good food, great wine and have some fun. That is what I enjoy doing,” said Coelho, whose passion for what he does spills over into every conversation and started at his grandmother’s dinner table in his hometown of Santa Caterina, Brazil.

“My grandmother would host these dinners for dozens of people in the family every weekend and it was always so much fun. That’s where I got my first taste of hospitality and how to make people feel welcome, and I loved it.”

Chef Robert Boslow traveled to the Amalfi Coast to research dishes for this Mediterranean osteria. Eggplant casserole with arugula and Parmesan, left.

Coelho’s success story is one of hard work, determination and understanding that the personal touch in business and the relationships you forge are essential. His journey to Nantucket started when he left Brazil while he was in his teens, when he headed north to South Florida. He ultimately ended up on Nantucket in the 1990s as a waiter at Cap’n Tobey’s, before moving to The Galley, where he became a key player over the next 10 years. He forged a partnership with the Silva brothers, who made him general manager at The Galley and then a partner in LoLa 41 when they opened that together. Today LoLa is one of the most successful year-round island restaurants, packed for lunches in January, February and March when island business is dead, and busy at the bar and dinner most nights, too. In the summer it’s packed. Same-day reservations start at 4 p.m. and a line quickly forms for those.

Coelho’s other partners are Kate Amodio, director of operations for the SoSo Restaurant Group, which incorporates LoLa 41, Pazzo and LoLaburger, their fast-food gourmet burger shop on Steamboat Wharf; and Vinny Gebhart, who also handles operational aspects of the business including technology and media relations.

When it became clear in early November that Ron and Colleen Suhanosky’s gem of an Italian trattoria, Sfoglia, was closing at its Nantucket location on Pleasant Street after 10 years, Coelho quickly began the process of putting together a team of investors and developing the concept that has became Pazzo.

He knew he wanted the food to be fun, yet accessible, and to fill a niche that didn’t already exist. It was going to be a little crazy, a bit of this, a bit of that and a lot of fun, hence the name Pazzo, pronounced “pat-zo,” which means crazy in Italian.

The inspiration for the menu came from the sunny islands of the Mediterranean around Italy and Spain as well as North Africa. Chef Boslow took a 10-day trip to the Amalfi Coast just after the winter holidays before creating his menu, which features a good mix of fish and shellfish as well as pastas, risotto and vegetarian dishes, and meats roasted on a wood-smoke rotisserie: the only one on Nantucket. Coelho was supposed to go on the food safari too, but a broken foot kept him sidelined on Nantucket. It was up to Boslow to do the tough duty of culinary research.

The result is an interesting menu, full of creativity and range from an adventurous grilled octopus salad, complete with tentacles, to a straight-forward half a roasted chicken with mashed potatoes and greens. Yes, you can bring the foodie in your life here as well as grandma, and both will find something they’ll love. Promise.

The real fun on the menu, however, is embarking on a bit of adventure.

From North Africa there are the tagines, large clay pots with triangular tops which keep the heat in and cook the food slowly. There are two to choose from. Chicken is braised with preserved lemons and olives to a succulent, fall-off-the-bone tenderness. Lift the lid off the tagine as it is presented table-side and steam rises, while the fragrance of the lemons and spices wafts across the table. The tagine is prepared for two, but three people easily nibbled on one at our table. It’s addictive. A side of spiced-carrot salad is cool and refreshing, while the toasted couscous provides a nutty base of grains for soaking up the broth and juice from the chicken. Harissa, a fiery condiment from Tunisia, is an option for adding more heat to the dish.

The Marseilles shellfish tagine is brimming with clams, mussels, baby octopus, shrimp and halibut all simmered in a garlic broth. Grilled bread is perfect for dipping, and the same sides are offered here as for the chicken. A tagine for two is more than enough food, but we hear that some groups of four start off with the dish as an appetizer for the table. It’s a tough call deciding what to order. I like almost everything on the menu – we ended up going to Pazzo three times to write this story!

The “Small Plates” part of the menu is made up of dishes cooked in cazuelas, small casserole dishes, or cast-iron pans. If you want an appetizer that’s not a salad, here’s where to look. The Grilled Shrimp with Romesco Sauce – a classic sauce from Catalonia, Spain made from tomatoes, roasted red peppers, toasted almonds, garlic, onions and olive oil all ground and puréed – is served with cooling slices of avocado and just heavenly. It’s my favorite.

I also am partial to the Warm Grilled Octopus Salad, served with potatoes and fennel. Octopus is often overcooked and dry. Even at the best restaurants in Boston I’ve ordered it and often regretted the decision as it was improperly cooked. Not here. Boslow’s kitchen turns out tender, succulent octopus, a real treat.

If you love shellfish and aren’t afraid of a little heat, order the Roasted Littleneck Clams with Harissa and Grilled Bread. Aromatic, redolent of spice and heat, these are delicious, but not for the faint of heart. It’s another good appetizer to share, and ask for an extra order of grilled bread to sop up the spicy broth.

For the less adventurous there are several salads to choose from, one with mache and house-made ricotta and fava beans. For smaller appetites, there’s always the option of starting with a bowl of marinated olives and antipasti for the table.

While the tagines are the drama at the dinner table, the pastas are noteworthy. Three are offered along with a risotto. In May, sweet pea and morels with lobster was the risotto on the menu, but these flavors are likely to change with the seasons to take advantage of the freshest produce in the market. The parsnip and potato stuffed ravioli are two large squares stuffed with puréed vegetables and topped with a fragrant oxtail ragu, finished with shards of cheese. There’s lots of flavor packed in a modest serving. The house-made cavatelli tossed in a simple tomato sauce with nuggets of basil mozzarella is delicious, toothsome and fragrant. It’s also very filling. We skipped the Bucatini All’Amatraciana, strands of tubular pasta tossed in an aromatic tomato sauce with guanciale, but hear it’s a favorite of diners.

Vegetarian options abound. On one visit we tried the Eggplant Casserole, a small cast-iron pot filled with layers of roasted eggplant, cheese and tomato sauce, bubbling hot and a perfect taste of southern Italy. The best eggplant parmigiano I ever had was made by a Sicilian woman, Pini, and served al fresco to the vineyard workers at the end of the grape harvest in Tuscany. I’ve never tasted anything better, but this comes close. Lightly-dressed arugula is served alongside. No need for an appetizer here.

For the carnivore, there are plenty of options: a New York strip steak, an orange-spiced pork dish, a spit-roasted lamb loin and a half spit-roasted chicken.

We enjoyed some good, reasonably-priced wines on our visits, with the list assembled by Amodio. Pazzo also prides itself on creative cocktails. In fact, when Coelho envisioned his new space, he nearly tripled the size of the bar and made it a work of art. Fronted with stacked stone and lit by heavy Mediterranean lanterns, one gets the feel of relaxing in an underground grotto. Ironwork over the windows and a heavy grill with a fish motif displays the talents of island sculptor Billy Sherry. John Newman and his son Josiah and their team, who also were the crew on the redo of The Galley and LoLa 41, performed all the carpentry work. Audrey Sterk was the interior designer Coelho consulted.

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