Seven years after opening, you can still expect a wait for a table at Barbuzzo. Behind one of Philadelphia’s most beloved spots is Valerie Safran and Marcie Turney, the duo that turned a once-forlorn Center City block into a foodie destination with their cluster of restaurants. Of course, we may have a soft spot for Barbuzzo since it was one of our first restaurant projects. Those two-tops where diners hover over small plates? Custom built by Provenance.
We caught up with them after a marathon baking session (more than a thousand customers devoured their limited edition popovers piped with caramel salted budino) and asked them to fill us in on their favorite elements from Provenance, how to design a bar where customers can’t resist ordering another round, and the best seat in the house.
What lessons in restaurant design have you learned since opening Barbuzzo? Are there any features in the space that you would have done differently years later?
The biggest lesson is that design does matter! It is such a huge component to creating the right atmosphere. At Barbuzzo, we wanted to recreate the feeling we experienced in Puglia, Italy, where we stayed at a local agriturismo. That’s where the inspiration for Mediterranean farmhouse came from.
Provenance provided much of the interior development for Barbuzzo. Which of the reclaimed materials is your favorite?
The grey reclaimed barn wood as well as the back bar shelving. When we designed our second floor private event space above Barbuzzo we had Provenance do a similar back bar design as well.
When I am planning a restaurant I always want to use interesting materials like original wood or worn plaster. Then you need to build off that and that is when I go to Provenance for ideas and materials. Provenance came up with solutions using architecturally salvaged materials. That was really the game-changer for me. An architect doesn’t always have these unique ideas and solutions to a design problem. I always want cladding on walls, steel on corners, and materials that have aged well. I plan for the least amount of maintenance and painting and patching holes, etc.
This was your first restaurant with a liquor license. Was the design of the bar all the more important because of that?
The design of any bar is critical – there needs to be enough depth at the bar so customers feel comfortable drinking, as well as eating! The overhang needs to be a minimum of 10 inches because there is nothing worse than seeing a comfortable-looking bar, and then your knees are jammed against the bar front when you take a seat.
The Mediterranean coast was the inspiration for Barbuzzo. Were there any specific restaurants that you visited on your trip that solidified that idea for you?
We took several trips to Spain and Italy, and the agriturismos were our biggest inspiration. The large sea blue barn door was inspired by an old olive mill that we stayed at in Puglia.
In terms of size, Barbuzzo is one of your smaller restaurants. Anyone who’s eaten there knows they may rub elbows with their neighbor. Was that choice intentional?
Whether people want to admit it or not, there is a feeling you get when you are in a very casual, comfortable and incredibly busy restaurant. It’s like you are “in the know” at the local hot spot. I always say there is something special about Barbuzzo, and then I joke that it must be you can sit at the chef’s counter and reach out and touch his cooking.
What’s the best seat in the house at Barbuzzo?
Any seat at the chef’s counter. I like watching everything being made in front of me, chatting with the chefs, and the quiet controlled chaos of it all.