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Pentimento in Stony Brook turns main dining room into marketplace

Lisa Cusumano, partner at Pentimento in Stony Brook,

Lisa Cusumano, partner at Pentimento in Stony Brook, shows off the market that now occupies the restaurant's main dining room. Credit: Newsday/Erica Marcus

Pentimento has been doing its Italian thing pretty steadily since it opened in 1994 in the Stony Brook Village Center. Chef-owner Dennis Young has been overseeing the mostly Italian kitchen (although, starting in 2014, he drafted Massimo Fedozzi and then Chelsea Taylor to handle the day-to-day cooking) and the bar has become one of the town’s favorite watering holes.

Then pandemic struck and everything changed. After a brief closure, Young and managing partner Lisa Cusumano started focusing on takeout, establishing a window through which they could sell packaged food. When outdoor dining was permitted, they stretched the capacity of the manicured garden to accommodate 28 diners and, when indoor dining returned, they got rid of the bar stools and spaced out the tables to accommodate 45 more. Young came back to the kitchen full time, then they were able to hire back 20 of the 45 people they had had to lay off.

Six weeks ago they made their most daring decision to date: turn the main dining room into a marketplace. "People are looking for groceries now," Cusumano said, "and we have the ability to provide them with amazing things."

Shelving units were duly created from all the wine crates that had been accumulating over the decades. Young took stock of the ingredients he worked with and figured out how to share them with customers, packing imported grains and beans into retail quantities, selling his house-cured pancetta by the pound, along with other Italian salumi.

The homemade pastas and pesto and sauces found on the menu are now ready to be cooked at home, along with meatballs and pork chops and even the seasoned, spatchcocked chicken that Pentimento cooks "under a brick." (You supply the brick.) There’s a Caesar-salad kit and artichoke spread and sauteed broccoli rabe, homemade potato chips and tiramisu.

There are oils and vinegars and mayonnaise and dried pasta as well as fresh produce, much of it from HOG Farm in Brookhaven. Cusumano brings up selections from the restaurant’s wine cellar including adorable half bottles of Chianti and Amarone.

Heaters are on order for the garden although Cusumano’s cold-weather plan also involves "hoping for a mild winter."

One advantage of becoming Pentimento Market, she said, was that, in the event of a lockdown, "we will be considered essential and, hopefully, won’t have to lay people off."

Like all restaurateurs, Cusumano and Young have had to deal with a constantly changing set of rules and challenges but, she said, "you’ve just got to be adaptable and flexible. This may be the death of us, but we are going to give it our all."