Chef Deborah VanTrece is on a mission to revitalize the historically Black community of Cascade Heights. She opened soul food restaurant Oreatha’s at the Point in March 2022, followed by Latin spot Serenidad in October. But after just five months, VanTrece made the decision to shutter Serenidad after noticing a flux of similarly themed restaurants in the neighborhood. Now VanTrece is bringing new life to the space with an Italian concept called La Panarda.
“I came to be a community partner, a good neighbor. I’m a chef-driven concept no matter what I do,” says VanTrece, who lived and cooked in Italy for two years. “One of my best friends is Italian. I’ve sat at the table with her family and broken bread with them. I like the similarity of big families in the South and their reunions, and in Italy, too. I like the Italian culture and the love of family, of gathering, of fellowship.”
While living abroad, VanTrece spent time in the coastal city Pescara and the Tuscan city Siena. Those influences will be present in La Panarda’s menu and in turn, VanTrece’s cooking. Every meal will start with a complimentary stuzzichini (bruschetta) and a miniature aperol spritz, a Venetian wine-based aperitif. (A nonalcoholic version will be available.) Small plates include marinated seafood salad with cornbread biscotti and eggplant, fried green tomato parmesan with lemon ricotta and aged balsamic drizzle. Select pastas can be ordered in half or full size. Entree options range from pappardelle pasta ribbons with Angus beef short rib ragu to cod piccata over angel hair pasta and pecorino broccolini. For dessert, expect panettone bread pudding, cognac tiramisu, and Georgia peach crostata with mascarpone whip.
A special seven-course prix fixe option for groups of four or more nods to the folklore behind the restaurant’s name. As the story goes, an Italian mother found her newborn in the mouth of a wolf. She prays for her baby’s safety, and the wolf releases the baby and runs away. To celebrate, the woman throws a feast called La Panarda.
As with most feasts, there will be beverages. VanTrece’s daughter Kursten Berry serves as beverage director. She’s created eight signature cocktails inspired by traditional Italian drinks. Examples include the Strawberry Swing (strawberry, lemon, rosemary, and Champagne) and the Summer in Maine (blanco tequila, amaretto, biscotti, lime, and Burlesque bitters). Curated by VanTrece’s wife, Lorraine Lane, the wine list will lean heavily Italian. “When I think of Italy, I think of it being more wine-forward,” VanTrece says. “I’ve also worked closely with Italian mixologists through the years and have been amazed at the things happening there now with cocktails.”
Those who dined at Serenidad will find comfort in the familiar decor. “Not much has changed,” VanTrece says. “[The space] has such a universal Mediterranean feel to it. It just fits.” She acknowledges that pops of color have been added with new wall art to “bring modern Italy into the space.”
La Panarda opens May 12. Reservations are currently available on Resy.
“I’m looking forward to getting back open and in the kitchen,” VanTrece says.
Check out the menus below. (Tap to enlarge.)