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Pizza is only a slice of the Academy

Photograph of Academy chef Nick Pallone by Marc Gamboa

Photograph of Academy Bar and Kitchen chef Nick Pallone by Marc Gamboa


Nick Pallone is being interviewed and juggling phone calls from business partners and purveyors, all while a vendor waits patiently to discuss the possibilities of adding more wine to the list. That night the restaurant would have its first dinner service and the benches were still tacky from the last coat of black paint.

Such is the drama of a restaurateur’s life: multitasking, flying seat-of-the-pants and concentrating on the thousands of details it takes to open. Luckily for Pallone, his new restaurant, the Academy Bar and Kitchen, is in the space of an old one — the 21-year-old Pizza Inferno, on the corner of Fillmore and Sutter Streets.

Pallone would often eat with his kitchen staff at the pizza joint after working at Florio, the spot two blocks up Fillmore where he was executive chef for the past four years. Pallone is an Italian food purist, who fought for a pasta machine at Florio to ensure all pasta was freshly made. From Italian American roots, his fondest food memories were watching his Grandma Pallone form the gnocchi for their bountiful Sunday feasts. It didn’t take long for Peter Fogel, Pizza Inferno’s owner, to ask Pallone to become a partner and reinvent the restaurant. An alliance was formed.

Naming the new spot was more difficult.

“We were sitting around my apartment throwing names back and forth and I didn’t want to pin myself down to any ethnic direction,” Pallone says. “I wanted to have the freedom to do whatever we want, whenever we want, and be ever-evolving.”

He adds: “I also wanted to involve the community. The name ‘academy’ literally means to promote and maintain the standards within the community, and that is what we want to do.”

Details throughout the restaurant will be part of his new vision. The moody new spartan walls of barn wood will give way to roving art installations curated by Davina Pallone, Nick’s sister. The first, with work by Christian Rothenhagen, is layered from a collection of 20 Victorian windows. Local filmmakers will have an opportunity to screen movies on the walls and customers will be invited to share their farmer’s market findings, prompting the kitchen to incorporate the discoveries. An additional community bonus — going through some challenges with city permits at the moment — will allow the restaurant to brew its own beer.

A midwesterner by birth, Pallone’s father’s career had the family moving all over the world — including Germany, Holland and Cairo — where he gleaned many of his early food memories. “I remember the sweetest cucumber I had ever had from a market in Cairo,” Pallone recalls. “It was from the silt in the soil.”

The worldly exposure also prepared him for an international culinary journey, including an externship in Avignon, France, and a stint in Alaska.  Ever the “gastronaut,” Pallone’s globetrotting turned into a love of creating. Charcuterie, canning, jarring, smoking and pickling became the natural byproducts.

At the Academy, Pallone’s passion will rule the menu. At first glance, the artisanal provisions will be straightforward, driven by locally sourced seasonal ingredients that incorporate the chef’s favorite techniques, with help from sous chef Mike Dietz.

Sections on the menu labeled Snack, Cured, Garden, Supper and Pie reveal innovative ideas. Snacks include housemade pickles ($5), house-cured jerky ($5) and nasturtium pesto with flowers on toast ($6). The cured offerings include a duck liver pate with sour grapes ($11) and a bay leaf-scented pork leg confit with crusty bread ($10). Keeping with Pallone’s roots is Dad’s Meatballs and Sunday Gravy ($9), along with an inventive list of Neapolitan pizzas that showcase fresh ingredients. Expect to find a pie with beet-cured wild salmon, housemade cream cheese, chive blossoms and shallots ($14) and another with house-smoked pork belly, Petaluma creamery mozzarella, dried heirloom tomatoes and pickled onions ($15).

The new menu will also include a supper section with grass-fed smoked short ribs, radish, potatoes with creme fraiche and chive vinaigrette ($25). Vegetarians will appreciate a vegetable section highlighting wild mushrooms with thyme and brown butter ($9) and salt roasties, which are market potatoes with olives and Meyer lemon homemade yogurt ($7).

Dinner will be served late — until 10 p.m. on weekdays and until midnight on weekends. And lunch is on its way.