LOWER EAST SIDE — A taste of Italy — by way of Seattle — arrived on the Lower East Side Monday.
Caffe Vita, a coffee shop that roasts its own beans, and Via Tribunali, a pizzeria that imports everything from its tomatoes to its chefs from Naples, launched their first shops outside the Pacific Northwest in tiny side-by-side storefronts on Ludlow Street.
"There's a lot of good coffee and a lot of good pizza [in New York]," said Mike McConnell, who founded both Caffe Vita and Via Tribunali in Seattle. "But we think we have the best pizza and the best coffee."
Caffe Vita hopes to let customers sample the difference themselves by handing out free espressos, lattes and more all week.
Caffe Vita will be the first Manhattan coffee shop to roast its beans in-house, using a century-old Gothot roaster. The seasoned cast-iron drum, heated with gas flames, brings out a sweetness in the finished product, said Bob Prince, a partner in the new restaurants.
"We're pulling flavor out of the bean rather than putting a roast on top of the bean," Prince said. "We're looking to pull out the flavors that naturally live inside it."
Next-door at Via Tribunali, the pizzeria emphasizes Neapolitan authenticity. Stonemasons traveled from Naples to build the wood-burning brick pizza oven, and the chefs slinging the pies are from Naples as well, McConnell said. Even the tables, chairs, silverware and light fixtures hail from the southern Italian city.
"We're bringing the real deal as much as we can," McConnell said.
A preliminary menu features antipasti, salads and calzones in addition to thin-crust pizzas topped with Neapolitan oregano and prosciutto di Parma.
McConnell had been thinking about expanding both restaurants to New York for years. The Meatball Shop and Sullivan Street Bakery, among others, already serve Caffe Vita's coffee.
He was immediately drawn to the Lower East Side and to Ludlow Street, in particular.
"This area felt like the right spot," McConnell said as he watched workers put the finishing touches on Via Tribunali's storefront. "This feels like home."
Caffe Vita, 124 Ludlow St., is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., with free coffee every day through March 16. Via Tribunali, 122 Ludlow St., will serve dinner from 5 p.m. to midnight March 12 through March 15 and then will be open 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m. to midnight Sunday through Thursday.