“Naming a restaurant is one of the hardest things,” says Sal Lamboglia, chef and owner of Brooklyn’s Cafe Spaghetti, a Carroll Gardens restaurant whose name — and food — drew plenty of praise when it opened in May 2022.
The name of Lamboglia’s new restaurant, Swoony’s, also in Carroll Gardens, has a similarly memorable ring to it. However, Lamboglia admits, it didn’t come easy. He went through some 200 names before his designer recommended Swoony’s, and at first, he didn’t like that either, thinking it was too playful. “A few days later, I was like, ‘Let’s call it Swoony’s.’”
It already feels like the right call. Anyone who’s been to Cafe Spaghetti knows it hits the pitch-perfect balance of approachable but thoughtful food and atmosphere. With a name like Swoony’s, Lamboglia’s second restaurant, which opens on Nov. 1, has the potential to hit all the same notes: lively, welcoming, and worthy of many return visits.
The menu will focus on American food, which Lamboglia interprets with a wide net. “What is American? It’s everything. There’s just so much influence, especially here in the city. I’m taking the opportunity to have fewer rules and make some delicious American classics, but also put a certain twist on certain things,” he says. There may be a play on shrimp cocktail, there will be a steak or two, and there will definitely be a burger. “It’s everything I want to be eating when I’m not eating pasta,” he says.
The most important part is that it feels fun and inviting — an American bistro where families can roll in around 5 p.m. for a burger and a later shift can grab a martini at the bar or linger with the wine list on a celebratory night out. Despite the distinctions between the two restaurants, the convivial vibes are true to both places. Located just around the corner from Cafe Spaghetti and not far from where Lamboglia himself lives, Swoony’s already feels like it’s part of the family.
Here’s a Rundown on everything you need to know before you go.
1. Swoony’s serves American food, in the broadest sense.
“I grew up Italian American,” says Lamboglia. “My parents were both born in Naples. But I love, love, love burgers, Shepherd’s pie, red meat, and seafood.” Describing the restaurant as a bar and grill and as an American bistro, he wants to serve the dishes he craves that aren’t Italian, and he plans to add his personal touch, of course. Instead of a classic shrimp cocktail, he’s testing a head-on shrimp dish with rémoulade, taking inspiration from New Orleans. Instead of steak au poivre, he plans to use a pepper sauce over short ribs. Instead of putting his burger on a classic bun, he’ll use a Portuguese roll. An iceberg wedge salad with blue cheese will come with warm bacon and chopped tomato. And lamb meatballs will come with cucumber yogurt and harissa. There will also be a couple of Italian American items on the menu because, as Lamboglia says, he can’t help it.
2. French toast will be on the dessert menu.
As for dessert, Lamboglia says there will be chocolate mousse, soft serve, and perhaps a banana split. But the item he’s most excited about? “There will also be French toast, which I am obsessed with. It’s my No. 1 breakfast item,” he says. “It’ll be a soft piece of brioche, a beautiful egg batter with all the fixings — cinnamon, vanilla, orange zest — buttery on the plancha.” As if that doesn’t sound good enough, he’ll also serve maple syrup from his neighbor, Ken Rush, an artist who splits his time between Brooklyn and Vermont and makes his own. “He packs it in these beautiful maple leaf jars and the plan is to pour it tableside.”
3. The bar is an integral part of the restaurant.
“The bar presence is just grander at Swoony’s than at Cafe Spaghetti,” Lamboglia says. There will be 12 bar chairs and the bar will be a central feature of the restaurant. He describes the cocktails as serious and says there will be a menu of classics as well as some in-house drinks, and a few beer taps. As for the wine, Giovanna Cucolo, who is a managing partner at both Swoony’s and Cafe Spaghetti, has developed a global list that will match the range of Swoony’s hearty menu offerings and the range of experiences the restaurant can offer, whether it’s a regular Tuesday night or for a special occasion.
4. This is an indoor affair.
Though Cafe Spaghetti is known for its beautiful and sprawling backyard, and Lamboglia is proud of that, he’s also looking forward to having more tables inside at his next restaurant, where disco, soul, and jazz will remind anyone who’s forgotten that Swoony’s is a place to hang out and have fun. “At Swoony’s, there are 65 seats inside and everything is right there when you walk in,” he says. With tin ceilings, a mix of antiques and modern touches, and tan, leather banquettes surrounding the central bar, the space feels cozy but updated.
“I became an antiquer over the last few months,” Lamboglia says of shopping trips that took him to Connecticut and Pennsylvania for antiques to place alongside modern touches. “It’s a good mix. It feels like an American bistro … In the beginning I had a vision. Then, little by little, all the pieces come together. Fast forward eight months and it feels and looks like a Swoony’s, and it should only be called Swoony’s.”
5. The roots at Swoony’s run deep.
Lamboglia has lived in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood for 20 years and he opened his first restaurant, Cafe Spaghetti, around the corner from Swoony’s. His dad also worked in the same Swoony’s kitchen space 20 or so years ago, when it was a restaurant called 215 Cucina Napoletana. His dad might not be making tiramisu for dessert at Swoony’s like he does at Cafe Spaghetti, but he’s still around, “walking by and saying, ‘What are you doing? Try that!’” Lamboglia says. The rest of his family is, too. “To still be in my neighborhood close to my family is everything to me.”
Swoony’s is open from 5 to 10 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. Reservations are live now, and Swoony’s opens on Nov. 1.
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