FROM POMPEII TO PITTSFIELD: Family saga yields authentic Italian artisanal cuisine (Photos: Making Mozzarella: kneading/stretching the cheese; separating into rounds) I first heard of Davide (pronounced “DAH-VEEvee-day”from Richard Bourdon, a favorite local baker at Berkshire Mountain Bakery. We were discussing restaurants, and Richard said“Davide is an artisan who bakes his own bread, makes his own mozzarella and basically hand-crafts every aspect of his restaurant.” Richard told me I wouldn’t be disappointed if I dined at Davide’s restaurant, Trattoria Rustica in Pittsfield, and he was right.
Born and raised in Pompeii, in the city of Castellammare di Stabia, Davide was trained at age 11 to work as a barber—his mother paid the barber to train her son, and the barber then paid Davide. He worked and continued school until 1970 when, at the age of 14, Davide came to America by ship with his mother. His father and sisters had come earlier, and they all lived in Pittsfield.
Davide’s first job in Pittsfield was working a jackhammer. At the same time he attended high school, gradually learning English and working construction jobs, as his brother-in-law was a contractor. Davide was skilled at construction and could take on any job—he loved working with his hands. He drove trucks and heavy equipment and in 1979 became foreman of a labor union. He ultimately worked in masonry and restoration and fondly remembers working on construction of the library in Park Square in Pittsfield, the Berkshire Athenaeum.
Davide’s grandmother in Italy was a guiding force for the family’s love of restaurants—she owned a trattoria on the Sorrentine Peninsula on the Gulf of Napoli, dedicated to Italianagriturismo, or agritourism, producing and serving wine, olive oil and food from the local farms.In the 1970s, Davide’s mother and sister opened Marina’s pizzeria on Tyler Street in Pittsfield, and Davide joined them. The restaurant was a success;in 1995 they sold Marina’s and opened Trattoria IlVesuvio in Lenox. Il Vesuvio is owned by Davide’s sister, Anna Arace .
The property was an old barn and the family made a huge effort renovating it. Davide built the brick oven, using the design of an oven in Pompeii as his model. He imported half a container of bricks and materials from Italy to build the oven. When the restaurant opened, Davide cooked orders specific to the brick oven and over time learned the business. He left Vesuvio in 1998 and in 2000 he began construction of his own restaurant: Trattoria Rustica.
Davide believed in Pittsfield and had no hesitation about looking[ca8] when scouting a location for his restaurant. When he saw the Central Block Building, in the heart of Pittsfield’s Central Business District, he knew that’s where he wanted to be.He loved the privacy of the huge courtyard. He made sketches, and for eight months in 2001 Davide renovated,with his own hands,the space that is now Trattoria Rustica. A craftsman and artisan, Davide designed every detailed inch of the space—finishing the brick walls, laying the tile floors, designing the hardware for racks and shelves to be custom welded. Images of frescoes from Pompeii line the walls and of course in the center of the restaurant is Davide’s brick oven, which he built himself, so he could cook from an open flame.
Davide obsesses over making things better, improving the restaurant’s design to make things run smoothly, adding to the beauty of the place. This is a space he treats with tremendous care and respect, and that effort is apparent wherever you go in the restaurant.It’s comfortable and inviting.
The menu is testament to his attentions as well. Every year, sometimes twice a year, he goes to Italy and “that helps my menu get better and better.” Davide says most customers are regulars and they come back for their favorite dishes—the sea bass, the veal or the steak. They know the wait staff, who’ve been there for years and are dedicated to Davide, with some continuously employed at the restaurant for over seven years. Every evening, Davide cooks a meal for his staff and later in the evening drives them home, treating them all like family. There’s noticeable appreciation and respect between Davide and his staff—the sign of a successful restaurateur.
Davide grills his own antipasto, makes his own mozzarella and his bread. “People know I make my own bread.It’s my way to show my appreciation for the people, and it’s the first thing they’re going to eat here, so it’s important for me to make it.” He buys local greens from Berkshire farmers, Ted Dobson of Equinox Farm and Laura Meister of Farm Girl Farm. His meats are fresh and hormone free. His signature dishes are the spigola, or sea bass, and grilled meats, such as veal, pork or lamb.
After 11 years of dedicating himself to the restaurant, Davide is rooted in the community, and guests at the local theaters and hotels are his customer base. Barrington Stage Company and the Colonial Theatre draw strong audiences, and the Crowne Plaza hotel attracts international travelers who enjoy dining in a restaurant sensitive to European traditions.
“Each year it gets better in Pittsfield as the theaters draw crowds and the city is fixing itself up,” he says. Davide says that,looking back 12 years ago, he could see it coming. He’s proud to be part of the growth of Pittsfield because “I grew up in Pompeii, a region that appreciates tourists. I believe in tourists because my grandmother worked so well with agriturismo.” - Caroline Alexander [originally published in EdibleBerkshires 2013]