‘Family dinners’ saved Branford breakfast spot Crostini

Crostini was never even supposed to happen in the first place. The brainchild of Madison’s Giovanna Mazzariello, she convinced her father – legendary restaurateur Biagio Mazzariello (of Biagio’s in Madison fame, and later also Leon’s in New Haven) – to take on the newly available spot on Meadow Street in Branford in 2014. This was not easy to do. He said no repeatedly.

“I had a corporate job, plus a toddler and a baby at home, and I wanted to get back into the restaurant business and he kept telling me that I was crazy. That if I thought I wasn’t seeing them enough already that I really wouldn’t with a restaurant. Then one of his friends suggested doing a breakfast restaurant. He kept saying that we don’t know anything about breakfast, “Giovanna reported from beside the Crostini chalkboard one Tuesday morning in May. “And I kept saying we could learn! Then finally I told him that I’d be doing it with or without him and he was in.” Crostini opened that February.

The spot, one block over from the Branford Green, had been wildly popularly for years when it was known as Meadow Muffins and for its considerable muffin and pancake assortments. Anything one could put in a muffin or pancake Meadow Muffins did. The list for both was long, as was the line every Saturday and Sunday morning to get in to nosh on some. Meadow Muffins was – and its successor Crostini very much is – a weekend brunch hotspot.

But Crostini is open Wednesday through Sunday, for both breakfast and lunch. And now also two Friday nights per month for dinner. Unusual to say the least.

“(Meadow Muffins) had been here for 15 years. We knew they had a following and people knew there was an established spot here,” she relayed. Crostini seats 30-35 people, which makes it one of those quaint little places New Englanders adore, but also something that you could picture on a cliff in Italy. “During the summer we overflow into the parking lot, under the tent, where we can fit another ten.” And they do. Boy, do they.


As for the Italy reference, it’s not as wild as it may seem, traffic and constant construction outside notwithstanding. “There was quite an impasse in the beginning. My father wanted to do traditional American breakfast. But I wanted to do something a little bit different. So the first few specials I put up on the board, like frittatas and eggs marinara (a staple in Italian-American homes: sunny-side up eggs smothered in tomato sauce), he kept saying they’d never sell. But I knew they would. They did alright and when it came time to change the special’s board and I took those off , people went crazy! ”

That’s when Giovanna said something that perfectly encapsulates why she is exactly where she is meant to be: “They bring back a taste-bud memory.”

To be sure, many of the items on the menu at Crostini are dishes grandmas, nanas and poppies have made for decades, but that the average consumer would be hard-pressed to find on a menu at a restaurant anywhere. Even the aforementioned Italy. She elaborated: “We all grew up on ‘peasant food’. I grew up on stale bread dunked in espresso. With lots and lots of sugar and milk.”

And so Crostini’s long, revered run began. That is, until a little over two years ago. The restaurant industry was one of the hardest hit during the pandemic, and while many began shuttering straightaway, one couldn’t help but wonder how long a breakfast spot could survive during those “curbside / support local” days. Giovanna was worried, naturally, and would even share her concerns via social media.

“We flipped it into family-style dinners to go,” she detailed. “The news was promoting for everyone to eat local and support your small businesses. And then people began reaching out to do this for others. They were taking care of neighbors, hospitals, the fire department. That kept us going. It was very scary , and I was very candid on social media because I knew there were a lot of people out there going to bed worried and wondering how they were going to survive the next day. I wanted them to know they weren’t alone. “

Once dinner at Crostini began, it became a labor of love. Giovanna came up with the idea of ​​theme nights two Friday nights a month. From the “Ciao Bella Dinner” to “A Night at the Piazza”, they were an instant smash. “I had been here for eight years. I was ready to start evolving,” Giovanna said. “What’s more, because of the pandemic, I had to start evolving. Or these doors were going to close.”

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