Jack Petronella knows the food for his next restaurant project Altamura by heart. It’s a style of Italian cuisine that’s the standard back in his native New York. What he didn’t know was just where Altamura would call home, and as it turns out he could not have imagined the one he finally found.
Altamura will open this summer in the Magnolia Mansion in the Lower Garden District, said Petronella, who also runs the Uptown bakery and cafe ManhattanJack. Nola.com reported the news first on Wednesday.
The Magnolia Mansion occupies a prominent location at the corner of Prytania Street and Jackson Avenue and dates to 1857. The 13,000-square foot building is now a 15-room hotel and event facility.
Petronella has leased the entire property. Altamura will be on the grand building’s ground floor, while he will continue to run the upper level as a hotel and event space. The restaurant, now called Altamura at Magnolia Mansion, should open in August, pending renovations to the kitchen. Petronella’s businesss partner in ManhattanJack, Coleman Jernigan, will be executive chef.
For the cuisine, think first-generation Italian-American, with dishes like chicken piccata and veal marsala at one of the menu and osso bucco and fine steaks at the higher other.
Altamura will have a separate bar area with a piano, which follows suit for the atmosphere Petronella hopes to impart in the restaurant space under the broad veranda and columns of the historic building.
“I want this feeling of a swanky, 1950s, 1960s Italian restaurant that Frank Sinatra would hang out at,” Petronella said.
Jernigan and Petronella opened ManhattanJack in 2013. It’s about two miles upriver on Prytania Street from their new project. They have simultaneously been looking for different restaurant spaces for Altamura and for a second location of ManhattanJack.
“We need different spaces for each and we took the approach that whichever space came first, we’d do,” Petronella said.
While he had not envisioned a property like Magnolia Mansion, he said the chance to open the restaurant here and run the events and hotel end of the business quickly convinced him it was the right opportunity.
Plans for Altamura’s menu and concept have been a fixation for the two chefs for several years now. They once had a much different location lined up, a cottage at 5119 Magazine St., but they shelved those plans last year.
While the real estate for Altamura is now much more grand at Magnolia Mansion, the concept remains the same. It’s based on Italian dishes from the Old World school of Italian cooking, a niche more commonly found around the Northeast, as opposed to New Orleans’ own Creole Italian cuisine.
“That’s what excited me about doing this. We’re not reinventing the wheel, we’re bringing in what’s missing,” said Petronella.
The 13,000-square-foot Magnolia Mansion and its grounds will still host weddings and events, while Altamura itself will be designed to field different types of dinners. That includes courtyard dining, and a long communal table for big groups.
“We’re hoping to get what Italian people do in New Jersey and New York, coming in and saying ‘we need a table for a party of 10 and want it a little bit private,’” Petronella said.
Meanwhile, he and Jernigan still plan to open a second ManhattanJack location in New Orleans sometime in the future.
Altamura at Magnolia Mansion
2127 Prytania St.
Projected opening: August 2016
4930 Prytania St., 504-897-5551
Breakfast and lunch daily.
Correction: an earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Coleman Jernigan as a partner in Altamura at Magnolia Mansion.
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.