N Magazine‘s new food columnist Chris Sleeper chows down at Via Mare.
Since co-owners Andrea Solimeo and Taylor Oliver opened Via Mare in the spring of 2019, the restaurant located in the Greydon House on Broad Street has become a launch pad to venture out into the wonderful world of food. “It’s a tip of the cap to Venezia’s long storied history as a central hub in the spice trades—journeys that allow for us to take creative license in broadening our cuisine, wine list and cocktails far beyond the Italian moniker,” Oliver says.
Solimeo and Oliver describe their menu as “Italian-ish.” The “ish” part has really expanded over the past year, morphing into whatever flavors they feel the community needs and wants in that season. While most eateries have tried to narrow their scope during these difficult times, Via Mare added Venetians on Vacation, then brunch, then lunch, then VFC (Via Fried Chicken). The list goes on. “It allowed the community to dive into different cultures at a time when we were essentially shut out from the world beyond our tiny island,” Oliver says.
Taking a step into their fire-lit bohemian living room early this spring, I was greeted with the same bright smiles I would expect when entering Nonna’s kitchen on the edge of the grand canal in Venice. I was no longer home. Or as Oliver told me: “It’s armchair traveling…in just about the comfiest armchair you can find.” Indeed, sitting in that cozy armchair, an array of small plates sent my taste buds on a trip along the Venetian spice route, borrowing flavors from the rest of Europe, North Africa and Asia along the way. My Venetian hors d’oeuvres, orcichetti, were perfect little bites of bacon and anchovy deviled eggs, hot chicken Milanese with Moroccan pancakes, and Nantucket oysters that put me canal-side in Venice.
Next, as the plates got a bit bigger, I dove into the wine list with the help of manager and sommelier Christina Peterson, who paired my decadent mushroom-and-truffle-stuffed cappelletti with a delicious light red from the Canary Islands. When I asked her what Via Mare meant to her, she told me, “It’s like all your favorite far-flung, idyllic travel destinations in one very small space…gastronomically, viticulturally and design wise.”
I recommend anything in the cichetti section; an assortment from the small plates including the cumin lamb, which is exploding with flavor (Chef Andrea recommends eating it last as the “grand finale”); the grilled beans that have never left the menu; and anything else with vegetables (they just do veggies right). Locals also swoon over the chicken, which has become a Via Mare staple in the secondi or entree section.
With those selections, I highly recommend you trust the team at Via Mare to choose your beverages. “We’ll again be highlighting a fresh cocktail program this spring with lots of fun and funky flavors,” Oliver says. “And the wine list is bursting at the seams with undiscovered gems we’ve tirelessly sought throughout the winter months.” For my part, I’ll add the fine Italian liqueur amaro—do not forget the amaro.
When I asked Oliver what he’s looking forward to on the menu this spring, he quickly answered: “Everything.” He then elaborated: “The goal is to take in a vegetable, or a fish, or a mollusk and ask what it wants from us, then make something delicious. We then do it all over again with the next exciting thing that finds itself on our doorstep.”