Marc Tessitore and Robert Squeri have freed take home zeppole from the greasy, powered-sugar-drenched white bag they come in and given them some class- a little dipping sauce and some fresh roasted coffee too.
While most Italian Americans probably remember their first zeppole from one of those little white bags at the annual Italian feasts, those in the Port Chester area are learning it doesn’t have to be that way.
Port Chester’s new café, zeppoleme offers a new take on zeppole with sweet and savory options. They also have paninis, salads, wine on tap and a wide range of coffee drinks.
Surrounded by menus with enlarged photos of enticing zeppole, Tessitore paused for a second to remember the first time he ever tried the doughy dessert.
“My first zeppole was at the San Genarro feast in Little Italy when I was a kid,” Tessitore said.
Little did he know then that the traditional greasy treat would become the inspiration for his latest business venture at 321 N. Main Street.
Zeppoleme opened about a month ago right next store to nessa, a restaurant Tessitore runs with his father Peter. The zeppoles there were such a hit that the Tessitore and his friend and regular nessa customer Squeri decided to create a new location for it.
“It was almost the customers idea more than mine,” Tessitore said of opening a place. “I listened to their feedback. People went crazy for the zeppole.”
They added the “me” at the end of zeppole to serve as a recognition that everyone has their own special memories with the ethnic treat.
“It is about your story really,” he said.
Tessitore worked in the restaurant business for years while also working in marketing until he went into business with his father at nessa. He is familiar with the area; he was raised in Pelham and lived int the Landmark for five years before moving to North Stamford, Ct. with his wife and two children, two and five year olds.
His partner Squeri was the toughest customer nessa had ever endured, he said. He is the brains behind branding for Jergens, Biore and other major companies.
“Because of that he was always a big pain, telling me how to package things and run things,” Tessitore said.
Over the years they tossed ideas around and one day they took the time to really move forward with the zeppole idea.
They spent a year working with consultants to perfect the recipes, sauces and branding while looking at spaces from Manhattan to Darien, Ct. In the mean time, the building next to nessa became available, giving them the perfect spot for the new restaurant.
They gutted and rebuilt the restaurant, “basically from the ground up,” Tessitore said. “I think the concept is a brighter, more day time feel. I wanted it to feel more like a coffee shop.”
You can’t get a zeppole at nessa any more but zeppoleme has more kinds to offer than nessa fans enjoyed over the last seven years.
They have the modern and classic sweet zeppole; the classic is similar to what you’d expect from the bottom of the paper bag at the Itlaian feast, except they are flatter, lighter and not too greasy. The modern is an “airier” version where they fold ricotta in the dough to create a lighter texture; it is a bit more bread-like than the classic one.
Those two can come with any number of seven different dipping sauces: vanilla cream, caramel, butter cream, espresso dip, Biscoff dip, hazelnut Nutella and lemon glaze.
Then they have savory zeppole: bacon, chive and provolone; veggie and sundried tomato, basil and fontina.
In addition to zeppoles, they offer paninis (made with Pullman loaves from Kneaded Bread), salads and soup. Plus, you can enjoy wine on tap (tapping the wine removes the oxygen so it makes it really fresh, Tessitore said), and wide range of Stumptown coffee drinks, frappes and handcrafted sodas.
After experiencing a great opening month, Tessitore said, he and Squeri hope to recreate Zeppoleme at other locations in the area and in New York City.
Zeppoleme is located at 321 North Main Street, Port Chester. It is open from 6 a.m. until 11 p.m. on weekends and until 10 p.m. on weekdays. They deliver in Rye, Port Chester and Greenwich.