Paul Angelini has memories of Italian summers staying up all hours of the night with friends making and eating fresh pasta.
Angelini moved from his hometown in Pergola, in the Marche region of Italy, to New London when he was 9 years old. Fortunately for future residents of the area, he returned each summer to Italy where he mastered Marche cuisine.
Angelini and his wife Eileen Sottile, of Essex, are the proud owners of Caffe Marche in Old Saybrook, a tiny breakfast, lunch, gelato, and pastry cafe with big goals to bring the food of Angelini’s roots to Connecticut.
“I spent two summers with just my grandmother and we made recipes every lunch,” he said. All the recipes at Caffe Marche are family recipes that he learned during his summers back home.
“All these tastes I have in my head, so I know exactly what it’s supposed to taste like,” he said.
Angelini never measured while cooking until he had to pass on the recipes to his executive chef, Beau Regan. He says that now Beau no longer needs to measure either.
“I’m trying to get people to really drink and eat really well,” he said.
A hallmark of the Marche cuisine, he says, is simplicity. No over-saucing, less is always more. Since the homemade pasta is so delicious, the sauces are meant to bring out the flavors from the pasta, not the other way around.
He also doesn’t carry salad dressing. The only salad topper at Caffe Marche is olive oil that is imported from San Lorenzo en Campo, and though he’s nervous a patron is going to one day request Russian dressing or ranch, he says he has yet to have a complaint.
Though Angelini’s goal is educating locals on food culture he was raised with, he is far from a food snob. What isn’t imported from Italy is brought in from local Connecticut growers and manufacturers- except, he notes, his salami comes from Fortuna Salami in Vermont, because it’s just *that* good.
He also buys Liuzzi cheese from New Haven, coffee from Shearwater Small Batch Roaster Coffee in Trumbull, and breads from Howard’s Bread in Essex. His other local vendors are listed on the caffe’s website.
Angelini knows that southern Italian heritage is prevalent in southern Connecticut, and he doesn’t try to discredit that culture or cuisine. Rather, he wants to bring a piece of his old home to his new home.
Angelini is open minded and works to bridge his two worlds, Connecticut and Pergola, with his cooking and atmosphere. It’s evident from the moment you walk into the caffe, which is located in James Pharmacy, a building with historical roots from Revolutionary War veterans to the first African American pharmacists in Connecticut.
Perhaps that is what adds to the curious magic of the locale. The outside is unmistakable New England fashion, but the interior transports you to the European cafes that you’ve spent countless hours daydreaming of. It’s an unexpected juxtaposition, but a seamless one.
If the rich colors of the wooden exposed beams, the walls lined with Italian imports, the imported marble tables, and fresh-off-the-boat espresso machine aren’t enough to transport you to a Marchigiani state of mind, one bite of the “cappello del prette” (a pastry whose name translates to “priest’s hat”) will finish the job.
The caffe, located at 2 Pennywise Lane, is open Tuesdays through Sundays for breakfast, lunch, gelato and pastries. The space can be reserved for family style dinners where Chef Beau and Angelini will make multiple courses for large parties of hungry guests.