Last year, I inhabited her attic for wayward souls for a spell. Lest you think that means this piece will lean Battaglini’s way with a nepotistic editorial slant, let me assure you that my short-lived crashpad experience included at least three stern talking-tos, two late-night “wise up, Tesauro” text messages and one forlorn trip to the vet because I killed her 19-year-old cat. Once, she had to remind me not to eat said kitty’s meds (before the accidental death) — what can I say, they looked like truffles. Given her tendencies toward edible delicacies, you can imagine my anything-on-her-kitchen-counter-must-be-delicious attitude. This applies doubly to her latest venture, Secco Wine Bar.
Two years after the let’s-go-hog-wild vision was reduced via economic bust to a more reasonable for-chrissakes-let’s-just-open plan, Secco is mere moments away from stamping Carytown’s passport with southern Mediterranean vino and vittles. And it’s priced for daily consumption, not yacht-christening infrequency. A couple lines from the Secco press release reads: “No staring at your bill thinking, ‘did I eat those olives or put them through college?’ No after-dinner beelines to the nearest pizza joint, wondering aloud if ‘tapas’ is Spanish for '$60 lighter and still hungry.' ”
Battaglini and her beau, Dave Martin (lately of The Boathouse, formerly of The Country Vintner and Six Burner), have amply stickered valises from their globe-hopping eatventures, and they’ve distilled those taste-bud memories into a layered menu and textured venue adjacent to River City Cellars (also owned by Battaglini). Just as the comestibles are a portfolio of highlights, the gang behind Secco is an all-star team of locals. Tom Brickman, responsible for the seating and specialty carpentry at Balliceaux, transformed the rough-hewn space with two pallets of ends from a wood framer, drawing parallels (literally) to Chicago’s famed Avec Restaurant, a Battaglini fave. Chris Milk added color and quirk with a mural that promises to evolve with the seasons. Meanwhile, executive chef Tim Bereika massaged the entire southern Mediterranean’s oeuvre into a hit list that will never be accused of middle-of-the-roadism. With two J. Sargeant Reynolds students at Bereika’s hip, the panini press, the deli slicer and the brand-new six burner are cocked for cookin'.
And then there’s the front of the house. Battaglini’s investment in professional service is impressive. Before the doors ever open, each employee, including back-of-the-house peeps, will have matriculated from cheese class and comprehensive staff trainings. Tasting everything in advance of their patrons, this crew’s lips shall never utter the words, “I dunno … I just started here.”
All of the champagnes are grower champagnes, and while the countries may be familiar, the grapes and appellations represent a revelation for any patrons suffering from palate fatigue due to the same old, same old labels: Piedmontese ruché, Galician godello and a French pinot noir born nearer to Luxembourg than to Burgundy. Oui, Battaglini’s entire wine-drinking life is summed up in a tidy list of vino erudition and esoterica that will fascinate neophytes and sommeliers alike. (Full disclosure: I've been a marketing director for Barboursville Vineyards, which appears on the list, since 2002.) Part of one wall is a chalkboard, offering insights behind the booze that grant guests instant access to the wines and beers.
Bankrolled in part by her own customers, this whole enterprise is very small-business 2.0. To keep the Secco fantasy afloat, Battaglini sold her house but refused to sell her soul. Clacking away at her MacBook, she burned the midnight truffle oil month after month, reformulating the business plan as her financing ran dry. That Secco means a different kind of “dry” in Italian is a fitting double-entendre for a redhead who’d sooner turn blue than wave the white flag and forego her rosé-lauding vision. After all these months of peeking through Secco's windows, the strip is buzzing with curiosity. For the record, though, that's not what killed the cat.