A landmark Schenectady restaurant is preparing to reopen after a whirlwind renovation and rebranding.
Cornells in Little Italy will have a new chef, revised menu and updated interior but retain the character and many of the popular menu items that made Cornell’s a city institution when it reopens Monday.
The tweak of the name — the apostrophe was removed and “Little Italy” was added — is intended to emphasize the Italian cuisine and heritage of the restaurant, founded in 1943 by Nicholas and Pasqualina Cornell.
The restaurant, which moved from Van Vranken Avenue to 39 N. Jay St. in 2003, was purchased in 2011 by current owners Jack Hume, Connie Hume and George Ryon. Jack Hume is the former publisher of The Daily Gazette.
Leading the transition for the owners has been Capital Region restaurant veteran Dale Miller, president of Master Chef Consulting.
The main personnel changes are Luca Brunelle, a certified executive chef who will run the kitchen, and Terri DeVoe, the new general manager. Donna Jackson, a 16-year veteran of Cornell’s, will be assistant manager.
Cosmetically, the restaurant is freshened but similar to what it was when it closed April 18. The paint and woodwork were nearly new and have not been changed, but lighting fixtures were upgraded and china and silverware replaced. The tablecloths are new, as are the exterior signage, exterior paint and awnings, and the entry foyer is redesigned. Most of the kitchen equipment is brand new, to Brunelle’s delight.
“It was time for a fresh start” but not a total revision, Connie Hume said.
“We are not interested in reinventing completely, we want to honor the tradition that brought the three of us here initially to keep the restaurant open. It was our favorite restaurant then and it still is.”
Miller said the new menu mixes traditional with trendy.
There’s the handmade cavatelli and the Veal Alla Mamma, the classic breaded veal with an eggplant marinara and four-cheese topping, but also Ducketta, a duck breast stuffed with garlic, fennel and herbs with porcini mushroom pan jus.
Miller said another new feature is the charcuterie, the cold prepared meats such as soppressata. Leading off the antipasti menu is Salumi e Formaggi — cured Italian meats and artisanal cheeses. Along with upholding the traditions of Cornell’s, the new menu follows Italian tradition.
“We want to be as true and authentic to the regions of Italy as possible,” he said.
Another new menu offering bears the chef’s name: Clams Luca. It includes spinach, caramelized onion, Reggiano cream and fresh herbs, and is a favorite of Brunelle.
The beverage selection has been updated to add a few New York wines and beers to the Italian products.
Beyond the regular menu will be specials that Miller said will be based on seasonal and regional ingredients whenever possible, particularly in the spring and summer. He also noted a year-round reliance on products produced locally, including three of the restaurant’s closest neighbors: bread from Perreca’s Bakery next door, gelato from Civitello’s across the street, and sausage from Garofalo around the corner.
“We’re all in this business together and we feel like we’re friends and neighbors, not competition,” Miller said. Working together also builds the Little Italy brand on North Jay Street, he added.
Monday’s grand reopening will include a tasty variation on the traditional ribbon cutting: Rather than a ribbon, dignitaries will cut an 8-foot loaf of bread baked next door in the brick oven at Perreca’s. It will be the longest piece of bread Perreca’s has ever produced.
Tickets for the 4 p.m. event are $20 and are available by calling the Proctors Box Office. Proceeds will go to the Education Fund, which benefits children and adults with in-school, after-school and community programs, as well as teacher events and summer training programs. Guests will get to sample both the classic dishes and brand new offerings from the Cornells in Little Italy menu.
Reach business editor John Cropley at 395-3104, [email protected] or @cropjohn on Twitter.