Why mess with perfection? Paul C. Reilly’s charming Coperta has so many delights, it’s hard to know where to start.
I have a roundabout history with Coperta. Before moving here, I had brunch at Beast + Bottle and got hooked on chef-owner Paul C. Reilly’s food. Then I spent a good part of the summer of 2014 watching World Cup games while sipping beers and snacking on fries at Jonesy’s.
Cue Coperta, Reilly’s second restaurant, which opened in July 2016 at Logan and 20th Avenue (the former Jonesy’s space), bringing a variety of house-made pastas and classic southern Italian dishes, with an extensive selection of Italian wines and libations to complement. The best part? Coperta isn’t just a dinner spot—you can get your fill of pasta for lunch, and there’s a walk-up counter for breakfast sandwiches and pastries plus a full espresso bar, too.
THE BASICS: So many restaurants today feel compelled to offer up their own variations on classic dishes. But some things are better left untouched—like Italian food. Reilly and his team cook up Italian classics without being underwhelming. The menu doesn’t stretch itself thin with choices, but has enough diversity to satisfy all palates and appetites.
ATMOSPHERE: Coperta manages to have a rustic Italian charm without being a caricature of itself. Simplicity is key, with dark wooden tables and chairs, oval mirrors on exposed brick walls and the original bar. The space is intimate enough for a date, bustling enough for a casual dinner with friends and quick enough for a lunch meeting.
ORDER THIS: Without a doubt, start with the mozzarella bar. Choose either cow’s milk ($9) or buffalo milk ($11) and add accoutrements like the celery pugliese ($2) or senise peppers ($5), then top them on the grilled ciabatta for an easily shareable appetizer that goes beyond bread and olive oil. Move on to the fritto misto di mare ($16), a medley of delicately fried calamari, gulf shrimp and market fish. There’s no marinara for dipping, just a few lemons to squeeze, because that’s all you need.
You’ll find yourself hard pressed to make a decision on pastas and entrées, but all pastas are available in either a small, individual size or a larger, shareable portion so you can get a taste of all your favorites. The spaghetti cacio e pepe ($8/$16) with bucatini, Parmesan and cracked black pepper is simple but ever satisfying, while the orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe ($11/$22) brings more depth of flavor.
The absolute can’t-miss entrées are the pollo allo diavolo ($21) and the eggplant parmigiana ($15). The pollo—a rock star—has an explosive flavor and juicy bite. The piccante oil brightens the chicken enough to give it character, but won’t leave a lasting burn on your palate. The eggplant is beyond what you’ve experienced elsewhere, your fork pulling away a strand of molten Parmesan cheese every time it dives into the tender dish.
WHAT TO DRINK: Picking a drink is another hard choice, but beverage director Jon Feuersanger breaks down Coperta’s cocktails clearly into light, medium and full. If the sweet-tart il Romana swizzle ($11) or the deep, moody amaro di amaro ($12) aren’t what you want, try the widely varied Italian wine list.
SERVICE: On multiple visits, service never missed a beat, whether we were seeking wine recommendations or a cocktail explanation. Reilly may even deliver a dish to your table, offering a jovial pat on the back like your favorite Italian uncle.
QUIBBLES: It might be a bit overwhelming for some diners to choose from the numerous options available: food menus, a cocktail-and-beer menu, a very extensive wine list and a list of items from that week’s featured Italian region. But servers are skilled at helping you navigate.
YES, CHEF: When Reilly took on the concept of Coperta, his approach was to stay true to southern Italy and Rome. “It is simple food, and the food of southern Italy is based on subsistence rather than extravagance,” the chef says. “It’s not gorgeous, but it’s comforting and it is delicious.”
The Italian word “coperta” translates to “blanket,” which is metaphorically conveyed through the food offered by Reilly. “For me, growing up outside of New York, that food is what was served at family dinners and celebrations. The idea is to let us throw a warm blanket around your shoulders with comforting food.”
BOTTOM LINE: There’s little not to love about Coperta. Even after a satisfying meal, you’ll worry about missing out on another dish—and I mean that in the best way possible. Every visit, you can try something new because there’s no end to the down-home Italian goodness coming out of this kitchen.
400 E. 20th Ave.
Antipasti: $6–$18; house-made pastas: $8–$28; entrees: $15–$25; sides: $4–$5; desserts: $4–$9
Pollo allo diavolo, tagliolini, eggplant parmigiana, mozzarella bar
Knowledgeable, courteous, thoughtful
Authentic Italian in a setting that works for any dining occasion.