A LITTLE ITALY, LITERALLY, IN RUMSON

ristorante-giorgiaRistorante Giorgia is set to open in Rumson within the first two weeks of June in the space last occupied by The Barn. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Bacon’s out. Pancetta’s in.

A little more than a year after ex-Wall Streeter Carl LaGrassa opened The Barn doors on Avenue of Two Rivers in Rumson, he’s handed the keys to the hangar over to a local chef with international specialties.

Francesco Panucci, a native of Italy who lives in Long Branch, is in the middle of overhauling the bantam eatery into an authentic Italian restaurant, Ristorante Giorgia.

“I’m trying to bring something like Italy here,” said Panucci, a veteran of the area restaurant scene who grew up in Calabria.

Panucci’s entry to Rumson is a mutually beneficial move. He was looking to open up his own place, and LaGrassa, worn down from the daily rigors of restaurant life, was looking to get rid of his. LaGrassa, who still owns the hangar-style building, which includes a gymnastics studio that will continue to operate as usual, said the spot is in better hands under Panucci.

“I think it’s going to do very well,” Panucci, 37, said. “I have a very good following already. People who know me, know what I’m capable of, so when they come in here, it’s going to be nothing like it was.”

With offerings like homemade pasta, seafood and gnocchi, Panucci’s venture is a total shift from the spot’s past. Before LaGrassa took over, it had been home to a number of breakfast and lunch sit-downs.

Panucci, who will take on the head chef duties, is embracing the opportunity and the limited dining area — there are about a dozen tables — to make a unique, “home country” kind of feel, he said. And he’s adopting a mantra that leverages that idea. The back of his business card reads in Italian, “La cucina piccola fa la casa grande.”

Translation: A little kitchen make the home big.

Ristorante Giorgia is a B.Y.O.B and will be open for dinner six days a week (closed Tuesdays) by the first or second week of June, Panucci said.