Boerum Hill is historic in every way other than its name — a coinage that dates only as far back as the 1960s, before which the neighborhood was the antithesis of trendy and known as North Gowanus. Business partners (and cousins) Julian Brizzi and Henry Rich brought their first restaurant into the world in much the same fashion that Boerum Hill brownstoners bootstrapped the area up from blight: with persistence and a stubborn disregard for the obstacles one faces when undertaking a gut rehab. When Rucola opened in the spring of 2011 with chef Joe Pasqualetto running the kitchen, a hungry neighborhood rejoiced. “The night we opened, we had 150 people,” says Pasqualetto. “Within two weeks we were doing breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They were lined up outside. It was a shotgun start.” The name is Italian for arugula, and it’s an apt one. Rucola’s concise, constantly changing menu is vegetable forward, with a focus on straightforward preparations that showcase the cuisine of Northern Italy. Salads are a mainstay (though we have a hard time resisting the crudo of the day). During the cold months, a short rib of beef with spaetzle, savoy cabbage, and roasted turnips warms the belly just as the rustically intimate, convivially populated, 50-seat space soothes the soul — abetted, of course, by a thoughtfully curated list of wines (many bottles priced under $40), grappas, and amari. And even in a brunch-saturated city, Rucola’s rendition is revered, especially by the restaurant’s hardcore regulars.
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