In the not-too-distant future, when most of what we’re currently experiencing has passed, I will fondly look back to the night of September 18, 2020, when my wife, Denise, and I had dinner on what appeared to be a movie set. (Jaded) New Yorkers for most of our, ahem, adult lives, we remember walking through certain parts of town that didn’t have names like DUMBO (“Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass”). Soho was always around, meaning “South of Houston,” then came Tribeca, “Triangle Below Canal Street.” Now, most parts of the city are branded, figments of realtors’ imaginations. But some, like Manhattan’s Elizabeth Street, appear as they did when children played in fire hydrants, stickball games flourished, and neighbors dined on the street. Where can you go now to take in this atmosphere? Who could possibly fit into a scene like that?
Enter 2010’s “Next Iron Chef” winner, Marc Forgione. As Chef-Owner of Nolita’s (“North of Little Italy”) Peasant, Mr. Forgione has taken the legacy of the previous owners, Frank DeCarlo and his wife, Dulcinea Benson, and grown it into a bona fide legend. And thanks to New York City’s recent Open Streets initiative, the movie set description isn’t an exaggeration. Remember the extended tracking scene in “Goodfellas,” when Ray Liotta and his date are escorted through the kitchen of The Plaza Hotel, then seated at a table directly in front of the stage? That’s what it felt like upon arriving at Peasant on a gorgeous pre-fall Friday evening. Only we were outdoors and given a front-row table under the stars taking the form of incandescent globe lights, strung throughout the newly constructed “parklets,” as they’re called. If you like trendy, keep moving. Mr. Forgione isn’t one for theatricalities and of-the-moment food fads. While highly Instagrammable, Peasant’s plates are the stuff comfort food is made of, though with a new world flair.
Lately, dining out has gone from “What’s hot?” to “What’s still open?” These are tough times for the industry, but on the night we stopped by, Peasant’s many outdoor tables were packed, and reservations were definitely de rigueur. In accordance with New York State and City laws, their plans are to open indoor dining at 25% capacity on September 30th, so plan your Date Night now. Starting with the dipalo burrata (cherry tomato, arugula, and balsamic reduction) was decadent enough, but our minds also wandered to the wine list for a crisp, not too sweet Lageder pinot grigio. The thrills of dining outdoors in a festive environment are two-fold: Watching how the wait staff handles its new surroundings, and watching the customers, ourselves included, do the same. We ate at another “name” restaurant in Gramercy Park a few days prior, and while the set-
up was similar, we were not treated nearly as well. Mr. Forgione’s hosts and wait staff doted on us as if we were Nolita locals. It's Italian dining in New York, exquisitely prepared. 
Carving into my meaty, flaky red snapper special, swimming in a sea of capers, petite Spanish olives and succulent tomato sauce, I closed my eyes and pictured dining seaside in Sardinia. My wife’s rigatoni mezzi, made fresh at Peasant that very day, rested on basil breadcrumbs, testing the limits between main course and delicacy. Our meal culminated with dessert, which was the most difficult decision that night. We chose the peach upside-down cake, a lemon marscapone dripping with lemon caramel sauce. Walking home down Elizabeth Street, I stole a glance over my shoulder and admired Peasant’s street oasis fashioned out of hope, sweat, and dreams. I couldn’t help thinking, we’re all looking for people to help us through these stressful times. Mr. Forgione and his team of smiling, dedicated professionals are certainly doing their part.
Peasant is open Wednesday, Thursday and Friday starting at 4 p.m. They close at 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday and at 10:30 p.m. on Friday. Saturday and Sunday they open at 3 p.m., closing at 10:30 p.m. Saturday and 9:30 p.m. on Sunday. They're closed Monday and Tuesday. Located at 194 Elizabeth Street in New York City, the dinner menu offers rustic Italian dishes perfect for casual dining for groups or an intimate date night. Call 212.965.9511 for more information.