Every first Friday evening of the month this summer, Greenbank Farm took on an Italian accent.
Antipasto, primo, secondo and dolce, the menu suddenly read at Whidbey Pies Cafe.
Pop-up, that’s what happened. Or more specifically, Fabio &Rita’s Italian Pop-Up.
Searching for a unique, quaint place to cook and share authentic Italian food, chef Fabio Consonni and sommelier and wine educator Rita Di Tondo found the perfect place when visiting Whidbey Island.
The couple had just moved to the Northwest from Italy in January.
“We went to Whidbey Pies Cafe for brunch, and we loved the feel of the old historic barn and the energy of the cafe,” Di Tondo recalled. “One day I got up the nerve to ask Joe Gunn, the owner, what he thought about hosting a pop-up restaurant in the cafe.”
Pop-ups, which take over an established space for a short period of time, are trendy in cities and usually involve a temporary place to sell food or clothing.
Gunn grew up on Whidbey and had moved back three years ago after buying the business from his mother.
He knew about pop-ups from attending them in New York at established restaurants. “So I was excited to be able to contribute a new dinning experience on the Island,” he said.
However, Di Tondo admitted it was a bit of an experiment. “None of us knew exactly what a summer pop-up series entailed.”
First, a menu.
June’s menu featured risotto alla parmigiana and balsamic vinegar from Modena for the first course and salt baked black cod with salsa verde and candied lemon peel for the second.
Chocolate caramel creme brulee and muscovado sugar tuiles.
July’s menu was all vegetarian, using locally-grown produce.
“The dinners have been fantastic,” Gunn said. “When we decided to do this, we were planning for a month beforehand and I had still not tried any of Fabio’s food, so that first dinner I was as blown away as everyone else was at his level of cooking and Rita’s selections of wines.”
The four-course meal is $50; wine pairing (optional) is an additional $18.
Reservations are needed; the previous dates sold out quickly. (A dinner planned for Aug. 4 had to be canceled but all ticket holders were refunded, Di Tondo said.)
The final pop-dinner is Friday, Sept. 1. A few seats are still available.
Since the cafe seats only 36 and quarters are tight, Gunn said to be able to provide the best service and experience, there’s only one round of seating.
Consonni, 38, is a classically-trained chef who grew up in Italy. He’s worked in highly-rated restaurants in Milan, Paris and New York City. Di Tondo, 35, spent 10 years in Italy where she obtained her masters degree from the Slow Food University of Gastronomic Sciences.
Sì, è reale.
They met while working at a Relais &Chateaux property on Lake Garda.
“What we love most is sharing our passion for Italy and the culinary world with others,” said Di Tondo. They also do cooking classes, wine tastings and cater private events.
At the first pop-up in June, Gunn arranged the outside patio space to accommodate a band and small tables for an after-hours dinner crowd or those ‘popping in’ for the usual First Friday event.
But the logistics of running two events one right after the other proved a little too challenging, Gunn said.
“I’d love to do more of these dinners,” Gunn said. “What’s so great about Rita and Fabio is that they take care of everything, it’s really their show. I got super lucky when these two walked into the cafe.”
The couple said they don’t have any plans yet for an additional series of pop-ups on Whidbey but they are considering doing one in Seattle.
They’re also exploring restaurant spaces with the intention of staying in one place for awhile.
But you never know what might pop up.