The emerging renaissance of Dallas' West End continues with more good dining news: A new casual Italian restaurant called Grezza will open in the location at 1718 Market St. currently occupied by Ellen's Southern Kitchen.
An Italian word for rough or rustic, Grezza comes from the same team behind Ellen's, which is relocating to 1701 Market St., with plans to open by June. Managing partner Joe Groves and chef partner Russell Mertz will remodel the space this summer and open Grezza in the fall.
They're still a ways off from developing a menu, but they know they want the spirit to be communal.
"I always thought shared plates would work well with Italian food," Joe Groves says. "You order lasagna and a fish dish, and it's enough for everyone to try."
"I remember when I was young, you'd go out for Chinese food and order several things that everybody shared," Groves says. "Today you go to a Chinese restaurant and order sesame chicken, and that's your dish.
"I always thought shared plates would work well with Italian food. You order lasagna and a fish dish, and it's enough for everyone to try."
Groves has fond memories of a restaurant he visited during trips abroad, when he visited Italy frequently for work. His favorite city was Florence.
"There was a simple farm-to-table restaurant called the Palomino I would go to all the time," he says. "It was one of those places where, if you were at a table, they'd seat another couple with you. They wouldn't even ask."
Groves recalls one night when he was dining with a group, and an American couple was seated with them.
"When I saw the guy, I said, 'We've met before,' and he said the same thing," he says. "We drank coffee and another bottle of vin santo, and he said, 'Worthington Hotel — we were stuck in an elevator.' We were stuck in an elevator for five minutes, and we're having dinner together in Florence 10 years later.
"I want to create that environment," he says. "The reason that worked is because they served good food. You wanted to linger, you didn't mind talking to strangers, it was a community. Like sitting in your mother’s kitchen. And the food made it worthwhile."
Grezza's atmosphere will be a little more upscale than Ellen's, but the food will still be homemade. "Our philosophy is always that we work with local producers if possible, from scratch," Groves says. "We don't open cans. We don't buy packaged or processed stuff. The concept of being homemade and fresh and made-to-order is something we want to perpetuate."
And they also want to serve the neighborhood.
"When we started Ellen's, it wasn't as though I wanted to start a comfort-food place," Groves says. "We develop a concept based on the need, not on finding a location for a concept.
"I try to think about what the city is lacking. What does the district need? And we are sorely lacking in excellent homemade quality Italian food."