Attilio Marini has more than 250 cast iron pans of varying sizes He’ll sizzle you a steak, seafood, and maybe even some s’mores right in one of them.
He’ll bring the pan to the table, hot and sizzling, and you can eat right out of it.
Chat away, drink your wine. The food, in that pan brought out at 550 degrees, stays warm for 20 minutes.
That innovative use of cast iron was on the menu Thursday afternoon as Marini, his partner Vinny Fuimara and more than a dozen city economic development officials and well-wishers celebrated the blue-ribbon opening of the Cast Iron Chef Chop House & Oyster Bar at 660 State St.
The establishment, which had its soft opening right before the Christmas holiday, takes over the space of Carmen Anthony’s, another steakhouse. It reduces the number of seats, but provides, as the centerpiece, a new technique of cooking with cast iron pans, which Marini said he has been developing over the last decade or more.
Business has been booming, said head hostess and longtime family friend Victoria-Ashley-Grant.
Marini is the son of the eponymous Marissa of Marissa’s Ristorante in Trumbull, which recently closed after more than 20 years. He decided to moved the family-begun enterprise to New Haven, switching from traditional Italian food to steaks and seafood uniquely cooked on cast iron.
“It was destiny. I’ve always wanted to be in New Haven,” he said at Thursday’s event. “It feels a little surreal that it’s happening. New Haven to me is what I need to build my brand, to become part of the New Haven food scene.”
Marini said that 13 years ago he read an article in a cooking magazine about the pleasures and unique taste of cooking a steak on cast iron. The article was about personal cooking. As he continued in the restaurant business, he developed techniques to bring cast iron cooking, he said, in tasty volume, into a restaurant setting.
What’s so great about cast iron?
Cast iron cooking is as old as the chuck wagon, Marini said.
“We’ve become so used to the barbecue grill, people forgot the use of cast iron,” he said. Personally Marini doesn’t like the flame-burning that you get from barbecue-style cooking. Cast iron gives you “the ultimate sear, and the end result is better than any other method.”
The pan is only part of the experience.
If you order that steak, Marini will take one of his pans, already preheated to 550 degrees, and pop it on the gas stove. Into it he puts the steak, along with potato and vegetable — in effect, the whole meal. The entire ensemble cooks in its natural juices. At the end butter, garlic, and fresh thyme are added. Then the whole sizzling enterprise is brought to the table and placed on wooden squares, which show the circular burn marks of previous cast iron pans.
You eat right out of the pan. “It’s part of the experience,” he said
Marini has advanced his cooking-with-cast-iron brand on Facebook and other online platforms. He said he hopes the new New Haven restaurant will help him take it to the next level.
Marini’s partner Fiumara, a lifelong friend who grew up working at Marissa’s Ristorante in Trumbull, said a realtor — or destiny, according to Marini — brought them to the space. They decided it was perfect, if a bit too big. So they eliminated one room, added extensive racks for wine, enlarged the see-through window from the dining room so you can see Marini do his cast iron thing.
Marini is his own butcher, cutting larger slabs into different cuts of meat, and then cooking them — publicly, if you want to watch.
“I love being on the stage. This is my stage. Everyone’s enthusiastic about food, and I like to share,” he said.
City Economic Development Administrator Matthew Nemerson Thursday praised Marini’s enthusiasm and genuineness. He also reassured him that the site of the restaurant, at State near Audubon, might once have been considered on the outskirts of town, but no longer. With hundreds of apartments coming nearby, in two years, it’ll be in the middle of the action, Nemerson added.
The Cast Iron Chef Chop House & Oyster Bar holds about 160 people, in bar, lounge area, and dining room. It has about 70 employees, full and part time.