Old World foodways at the revived Downtown Café in Kingston

 

Graziano Tecchio and his daughters, Sofia, 12, and Isabella, 14. (photo by Phyllis McCabe)

Few and far between are restaurants these days where their advertised “Old World cooking” reflects any actual Old World cooking practices or traditions happening in the kitchen. Chef Graziano Tecchio hails from the Old World — Venice, Italy, to be precise — where he grew up learning how to fish, slaughter, butcher, garden, cook and prepare all foods from scratch from his father and other family elders. These practices that, long-ago shed by many for more modern conveniences, continue in Tecchio’s kitchen.

Tecchio opened Graziano’s Downtown Café later last year in the Tecchio family building on lower Broadway. The family is long known for their culinary prowess and ongoing relationship with food on the Rondout by success of the former Mary P’s restaurant; Tecchio’s sister Alessandra owns Dolce Café and his other sister Ileana owns New Leaf Alternative Health. Tecchio himself owned the open kitchen Downtown Café more than a decade ago, then Mint restaurant, and now a second coming of Downtown Café with a similar layout as the former.

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Tecchio literally makes everything himself, from pasta to pâté to low-gluten pizza crust. Tecchio learned how to grind and stuff sausage as a young child, watching his father do it in their family store. Tecchio said his family raised and slaughtered pigs, oxen, goats, chickens, rabbits and more. “We went to the field to get the vegetables we grew, we would slaughter a pig we raised and then make everything from scratch and use every bit, including soap from the fat: prosciutto, pancetta, salami, capicolo [neck meat made into a cold cut], bresaola [cured tender loin] …”

Tecchio said he fermented foods, made cheese from milking cows, cooked fish, oysters and clams he caught fishing. “Very rarely did we go to the store, we grew all the stuff, periodically we had to go to the store to get clothes and such,” he said. “We were almost self-sufficient because of the knowledge of the older generation passed on. If I had to, I could get a sheep and do wool, I could make my own sweater. I could make salt. My uncle and great aunt went back generations before. We could render fat. All that.”

Tecchio is full of wholesome food “upcycling” knowledge, such as roasting a carcass to a caramel color in the oven before boiling it for broth to add dimension to otherwise bland bone broth. Tecchio also uses the scraps from sardines and anchovies from other dishes to ferment in a terra cotta pot for “gruma” — a traditional Roman sauce used to add nutrition and flavor to foods, such as Thai fish sauce or soy sauce.

Downtown Café in its modest space that seats 25 or so has an intimate warm, cozy vibe. Tecchio gets his charge from interacting with customers, and so creates open kitchens in his restaurants to be up close and conversational. Tecchio does Facebook Live and regular instructional YouTube videos and although it is easy to describe Tecchio as a “ham,” he’s grounded and very much at peace while immersed in his craft.

There is no fryer in his kitchen, and there is always a pot of a mirepoix bubbling, ready to become the next soup or sauce base. In the colder months, the store windows are steamed over with warmth, and the colorful water glasses glow on the tables and play off the pleasing brick walls and rich colors from his private collection of art hung on the walls. Tecchio houses and exhibits various artists’ work, and this collection was that of Patrick McKay, whose work had been collected by the late Princess Margaret.

Tecchio’s specials often feature not-oft-on-menus meats such as oxtail, elk, partridge, quail, rabbit and Cornish hen, often paired with older and highly traditional Venetian sauces but with a modern twist. Recent specials included braised oxtail in red wine and Yukon gold potatoes. Stephen Blauweiss of Kingston, the filmmaker responsible for the local documentary Lost Rondout, has been a devout customer since 1999. “I am a foodie, old school,” said Blauweiss, who insisted he’s a foodie who knows and cares deeply for food. “I know it’s a cliché but you can tell when food is made with love, the simplest thing [Tecchio] puts in care and thought. And that’s what you can tell the difference. The Italian food on the menu is sort of the foundation but always eclectic, but then he riffs on it … he is not afraid and likes to experiment.”

Tecchio has long focused on nutritional quality, he said, and creating clean and wholesome menu offerings. He’s touted the benefits of organic grass-fed beef for years. “Food is stress, work is stress, have food that will not stress your body,” reasoned Tecchio. “You cannot ask of your body the impossible, you have to let your body tell you what it needs.”

Tecchio said he’s very mindful of how condiments pair with his dishes in order to balance the flavors, and not overwhelm the diner. “There is a big misunderstanding about condiment and flavor, where some people over-flavor with a variety of flavors. If I am making ribs, and you put a pound of barbeque sauce on it, then you are not going to taste the meat, you are going to taste the barbeque sauce. [One needs to add just] enough spices to enhance the natural flavors. You don’t want to masquerade the quality of the food.”

Tecchio makes his own crust for a regular grilled, thin crust pizza special with low-gluten flour blend. He hand-cranks various pastas such as spaghetti, paparadelli, macaroni, cavatelli, angel hair, agnolotti (larger ravioli) and panzerotti. He also makes a chestnut gnocchi. Tecchio’s prices are generous, considering the quality of his dishes; grilled, thin-crust pizza of the day $6, salads ranging between $6 and $8, sandwiches for $8, and most special entrees between $14 and $19.

Tecchio’s desserts have been featured in The New York Times, including the chocolate truffle that made a “Best of Hudson Valley” list. Tiramisu, chocolate truffles and apple strudel generally remain steady on the menu, with various specials such as banana chocolate pecan pudding and espresso peanut butter chocolate flan.

Downtown Café at 91 Broadway is open in the winter Wednesday-Friday from 5-9 p.m., Saturdays 10 a.m.-9 p.m. and Sundays 10 a.m.-3 p.m. for his breakfast menu, which includes chef-made lox and crepes. For more information, visit Downtown Café on Facebook or call (845) 338-3380.

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