Former Gary’s on Spring in works to become upscale Italian restaurant — with a back story

The former Gary’s On Spring may be on its way to becoming a high-end Italian restaurant. | Courtesy of Jefferson County PVA

When Gary’s on Spring, the upscale restaurant in the Irish Hill neighborhood, closed last February, it was a surprise to most and a disappointment to its regular customers.

Now there are plans in the works for a new restaurant to open in the space, located at S. 204 Spring St.: Palatucci’s Italian America Ristorante. According to a post on the business’ Facebook page, the plan is to open the new restaurant before Derby Day, May 4. Executive Chef Richard Britney says he and his wife, Tamara, are still trying to secure final funding to open by May.

Britney spent more than a decade as an electrician, then operated his own business, The Computer Geek, in Jeffersonville, Ind., for 20 years. He says his plan for Palatucci’s has been in the works for four years, culminating in the recent sale of his business.

Richard Britney

He is the half-brother of the local chef and restaurateur Matthew Antonovich, a veteran chef of Casa Grisanti and former owner of Mozz, among other culinary ventures. Britney has cooked with Antonovich and is a chef in his own right, having been a guest chef at MESA, A Collaborative Kitchen as recently as last year.

The name of the restaurant is where the back story comes in — Britney’s New York cousins are descendants of Giovanni Palatucci, an Italian police officer who is widely credited with saving thousands of Jewish people during the Holocaust. Sometimes known as “the Italian Schindler,” Palatucci would later be arrested for treason.

Palatucci died in 1945 in a concentration camp during a typhus outbreak. The camp was liberated weeks later by the Allies near the end of World War II. In recent years, some historians have questioned the accuracy of these claims that Palatucci helped liberate Jewish people during the war, but the story has endured.

Britney says to honor his distant relative’s legacy of serving others, Palatucci’s Italian America Ristorante will focus on a sense of “togetherness.”

“We’re trying to create a restaurant where, when you come in the door, it’s about you and the person to your left and the person to your right, rather than it being just a meal,” he explains. “That feeling of belonging.”

Chef Richard Britney says the concept will be upscale “classical Italian.” | Courtesy of Richard Britney

He says pasta will be made fresh in-house, and many or most ingredients will be imported from Italy.

A special Kentucky Derby tasting menu posted online includes appetizers such as bruschetta made with fig jam and a charcuterie plate, caprese and sofrito salads, plus entrees such as picatta de pollo, salmon al arancione, and filetto di manzo al limone.

Britney calls it “classical Italian” fare and says recipes will be based on those passed along from family, including those directly related to Palatucci.

“We’re going to pay homage to the Italian side of the family,” he adds.

While recent funding setbacks may delay an expected May 1 opening to the public, Britney says he nevertheless hopes to host a special dinner for Derby Day as reflected in the menus posted.