Casa Grisanti veterans Matthew Antonovich and Michael Cooper are reuniting to open an ambitious combination Italian osteria-enoteca in the space once home to Primo at 455 East Market Street.
The new venture, which is slated to open November 1, just in time for Breeders’ Cup, will be called Mozz (short for mozzarella), Italian-themed and feature a casual osteria (a social gathering place), an upscale enoteca (wine library and dining room), a dual nightclub component and a deli takeout area.
The entire operation will span nearly 10,000 square feet, well beyond the original restaurant space occupied by Primo.
“When you walk in the door on the side where Primo was, you’ll see a 34-foot white marble counter, a community table so to speak, where two chefs will be making fresh mozzarella every hour and serving up great antipasto,” said Antonovich, who was executive chef at Casa Grisanti when it closed in 1991.
He later became the corporate chef for the chain of Grisanti casual restaurants before moves to Dallas, then Denver, where he opened up and owned a series of restaurants. “This is our version of a sushi bar serving antipasto. We’ll serve over a hundred organic vegetables, cheeses, meats and seafood,” Antonovich said.
The more formal enoteca side will be separated from the osteria by a 40-foot-long wall of glass-backed, black lacquer wine cabinets that provide a view into the European-style formal dining room. Tables will be cloaked in heavy linens and set with high-end glass and silverware. But that doesn’t mean a dress code will forbid entry to casual diners.
“You look at so many major cities now where people go to fine dining restaurants in a nice shirt and (designer) jeans, and it’s perfectly acceptable,” Antonovich said, adding that the combined dining room spaces will seat about 300 people. “We expect to attract everyone and anyone in everything from t-shirts to tuxedos. On the enoteca side, they don’t have to dress formally, but that’s the level of service they’ll get.”
The front of the house will be run by Cooper, a former captain at Casa Grisanti who has worked in management roles at other local restaurants.
Antonovich called their plan a “a 27-year reunion” built on a 20-year plan for creating a restaurant that will attract locals and corporate executives with refined palates who’ve moved to Louisville from larger cities, as well as out-of-towners seeking the option of sophisticated and casual Italian food in one place.
“You’ll be able to come here and eat cichetti—kind of Italian tapas—and Neapolitan pizza very affordably,” he said. “Or you can have bistecca Florentine, which is a Porterhouse for two and costs $56.”
The 200-seat jazz club, dubbed the Market Street Bar, will feature local singer Carly Johnson as musical director, and a variety of local and national acts. A separate space called the NuLu Lounge, will feature a piano bar and seat 80.
Asked what gave him and Cooper the courage to take such a risk in the middle of a recession, Antonovich said the timing was simply right. Not only did the building’s owner, Todd Blue, provide a favorable lease arrangement, Antonovich believes Louisville has earned a spot on the international dining scene over the years, and he wants to maximize that opportunity.
“We also feel there’s just a void in upscale restaurants here, and we chose downtown because we want to be part of some very exciting things happening along Market Street,” he said. “What Casa Grisanti did was make itself both a favorite of locals in Louisville and a preferred destination for those coming to Louisville. That’s what we’re after.”