New Roswell Italian spot a rising star

“You hug your customers?!”

Young Roswell restaurateur Ryan Pernice enjoys sharing tales of sibling Dan’s first experiences at Table & Main, where building relationships has become Ryan’s calling card.

After working as the dining room sommelier at the Modern in New York, Dan returned to Roswell to join Ryan in opening the city’s new Italian restaurant, Osteria Mattone. In returning to these parts, Dan brought the buttoned-up formality of his training. Imagine his shock as diners, who often confuse the two look-alike brothers, eagerly greeted him with enthusiastic hugs intended for Ryan.

Comparing the brothers Pernice is akin to comparing sister restaurants Table & Main and Osteria Mattone. The two spots do share characteristics, like a casual, understated elegance, broad appeal and superior service. Yet, they have taken on individual personalities and likely attract different, though overlapping, segments of the community.

At Osteria Mattone, the cuisine shifts from Table & Main’s Southern farm-to-table fare to that of an Italian osteria-trattoria hybrid. And, like Dan Pernice, who seems to have relaxed into his role of its beverage director, Osteria Mattone has a slightly more formal presence than its sibling.

The puzzle is beginning to come together at Osteria Mattone, where each member of the assembled team brings a unique set of strengths. It starts with Ryan’s masterful management of the dining experience. Chef and co-owner Ted Lahey brings relatable cooking that has a polished simplicity and the potential to ascend from good to great. The restaurant also benefits from Dan’s well-considered beverage program and pastry chef Micki Kimberly’s understanding of the dessert experience.

These key players make Osteria Mattone the more likely of the sister restaurants to become a destination where Roswellians have to compete with outsiders for a coveted table.

I’d recommend you make a reservation well in advance or plan to wait on a bar stool or at one of the walk-in tables. While you wait, soak in the charm of this handsomely remodeled old home on Canton Street. You can sip a well-balanced negroni ($11.50) that highlights the Plymouth gin’s botanicals or go ahead and delve into Dan’s Eurocentric wine list, which the restaurant plans to continue growing.

Over the course of my visits, I enjoyed eavesdropping on Dan as he guided diners through the wine list in a quiet and nonjudgmental manner. He has perfected the art of guiding without intimidating, tempting guests to try something perhaps a little more delicate and complex than a big California Zinfandel, like the 2010 Giuliano Rosati Valpolicella Ripasso ($12 glass/$48 bottle). Just don’t offer a hug in appreciation — maybe a firm handshake.

As Dan makes the wines accessible, back in the kitchen, Lahey is doing the same for the food. Having worked with notable chef Michael White, Lahey adopted his style of Italian cookery, focusing on singular ingredients and letting them shine. We see this in dishes like the branzino ($24), a beautifully simple, wood-grilled fish with well-seasoned skin dressed with lemon.

Lahey also makes a mean mess of sausage and peppers (ragu di salciccia, $12), a perfectly rustic and hearty bowl of comfort. Thankfully, it comes with slices of Kimberly’s impossibly light focaccia to sop up the pomodoro sauce studded with crumbled homemade fennel sausage.

Lahey goes a little more upscale with a carefully poised trio of Australian lamb chops (agnello al scottadito, $32). Grill flavors provide the backdrop for the medium-rare meat brushed with a balsamic lamb jus glaze over a creamy gush of mushroom risotto.

This kitchen is also making its own pastas, which tend to be ever so slightly thick. Nevertheless, I cleaned my dish of tortelli di zucca ($19), filled with a delightful fall-scented mixture of butternut squash, nutmeg, parmesan and ricotta. I also enjoyed the oxtail filling in the agnolotti di oxo ($22), which reminded me of the delicate goat ravioli from Table & Main that inspired it. I noticed the pasta’s thickness most here when biting through the tough, double-thick edges.

Thickness isn’t an issue with the lasagna ($21), which contains a tangle of pappardelle noodles loaded in a meaty bolognese sauce. Instead of the traditional cheesy layer, Lahey tops it with a heavy-on-the-parmesan béchamel that sadly disappears instantly into the meat. It sounded so good.

But Osteria Mattone has another gem in the kitchen with up-and-coming pastry chef Kimberly, formerly the sous chef at Table & Main. Despite a lack of formal pastry training, her instincts for creating desserts are spot on. She understands that the comfort derived from desserts breaks down with their deconstruction. Instead, she uses components in harmony, with a balance of flavors and textures.

Try the Baba Rhum ($8), which is Kimberly’s favorite (and mine, too). Her pillowy, rum-soaked brioche luxuriates in a pool of creme anglaise with marsala raisins. Pair it with a cappuccino and you have my new favorite dessert in Atlanta.

The ricotta fritters (fritelli di limone e ricotta, $7) are also worth a splurge. This one has more components, but it works and doesn’t leave you wondering how to eat it. Just grab one of the airy fritters and swipe it through the lemon curd and whipped honey and dab it in the crushed amaretti. This is how you eat your feelings.

The team’s in place. Osteria Mattone already has presence. I suspect that, like its sister, this restaurant will only improve with age.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.