Home Plates

Home Plates

Even in New Haven, where Italian food looms large, Skappo Italian Wine Bar manages to be eccezionale. For one thing, there’s no apizza, or even pizza, on the menu. For another, strangers often find themselves sitting together at long tables (though there are a couple of intimate two-seaters by the window), enjoying thoughtfully chosen wines, inspired antipasti mixes and specialty dishes from the Umbrian region of Italy. Also, the staff sometimes breaks into song.

The restaurant is owned and operated by Anna and Thomas Sincavage and their three children, Yvette, Michael and Marc. Anna, a native of Assisi, Italy, met her husband while he was studying abroad there. Through Skappo, they’ve imported her Italian heritage to share with the rest of us, including traditional family recipes.

The eatery’s origins lie in Anna’s desire to keep her family close, explains Yvette. After her children left the nest and embarked on careers of their own, Mom discovered a way to ensure regular family reunions while treating Americans to one of her favorite hometown traditions: Calendimaggio celebrations, held in Assisi to herald spring and mark a centuries-old family rivalry that shaped Assisi’s history.

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Both generations of Sincavages began coming together to stage the festivities in spots around Connecticut, bringing traditional food, games and other entertainment along with them. Wearing costumes—including tights for her brothers, Yvette remembers with a smile—attendees would mingle and vie for prizes during ring tosses and the like. Eventually they’d sit down at long tables to enjoy Umbrian meals—catered, but cooked with Anna’s family recipes.

After one occasion, Yvette recalls the family discussing another possibility: what if we did this all the time, in one place? “From that point forward,” says Yvette, “we were all in it together.”

Skappo opened in 2004, carrying forward the food and hospitality sides of Calendimaggio on a full-time basis. The restaurant’s menu is markedly different than the usual. You won’t find a large pasta selection, though there’s always a pasta of the day, and, as mentioned, you won’t find any apizza. Instead there’s a changing selection of charcuterie and cheeses, vegetable-based dishes, several larger entrees and dessert to finish.

You can’t go wrong starting with the Piatto Misto (“mixed plate,” pictured first above): a selection of meats and cheeses from the family’s Italian market, Skappo Merkato, located just around the corner and selling Italian sandwiches, soups and delicacies. More complex than it sounds, a recent Misto spread included prosciutto and two special kinds of salami, soppressata and cacciatorini, plus a goat’s-milk cheese aged in wine, an Irish cheddar aged in Guinness and a sheep’s-milk variety from Calabria, Italy.

Next try the Crostini con Pomodori e Parmigiano-Reggiano, toasted bread topped with a spreadable version of the named cheese and a rare imported type of semi-dried tomato. The tomatoes alone are a treat—plump, unlike typical sun-dried tomatoes, but with a bright, concentrated flavor.

The menu’s Vegetali section includes salad and soup, but also a more substantial gnocchi and that pasta of the day. Larger plates are pricier, $20 and up, but sharing a variety of dishes between a couple or within a crowd is an affordable way to dine. Like much of the rest of the menu, the entree section is updated frequently, though the Coniglio con Pancetta e Torta di Spinaci—braised rabbit thighs with pancetta, served with creamy spinach and ricotta—is a Skappo tradition.

Tradition: it’s a word used frequently but not lightly at Skappo. Yet progress is a family value, too. The business recently launched a new line of jams and chutneys in four varieties—Apple Plum, Apricot, Balsamic Red Onion and Fig—which you might find served in a ramekin next to your charcuterie and cheese plate.

The Sincavages once sold the jams at local farmers’ markets to much avail, and are now using a local producer to make bigger batches, selling at 35 outlets statewide. New Haven residents can find them at the Merkato, of course, as well as Wave Gallery, Caseus, Chestnut Fine Foods, Liuzzi and Firehouse 12, where bartenders use them in specialty cocktails.

It’s old-world meets new-school, with appetizing results.

Skappo Italian Wine Bar
59 Crown St, New Haven (map)
Wed-Thurs 4:30-10:30pm, Fri-Sat 4:30-11pm, Sun 5:30-9:30pm
(203) 773-1394

Written by Cara McDonough. Photographed by Dan Mims.

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