Tucked away off Shawmut Ave. in the South End, Coppa offers a neighborhood feel that is difficult to come by in most of Boston. Couple this fun atmosphere with some of the best Italian food in the city, and it is no surprise this tiny 11-table restaurant can sometimes have a multiple-hour wait.
Since its opening in 2008, Coppa has been thriving. Together, chef-owners Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette have a laundry list of accomplishments in the restaurant world, including “Best Newcomer” by Top Tables issue of Gourmet and “Rising Star Chef” by the Improper Bostonian, respectively. They met at Toro, another South End restaurant started by Oringer.
Serving Italian small plates, Coppa specializes in “elevated comfort food,” as described by general manager Gina-Marie Ciccotelli. Coppa, like many of the newer restaurants in Boston, is dedicated to using local and sustainable food. With the colder weather, the menu is currently featuring dishes like wood over roasted Brussels sprouts or ricotta gnocchi with celery root and cerignola olives. Ciccotelli explained that the chefs also believe in nose-to-tail cooking. “They use every part of the animals too,” she said. “We have pigs tails on our menu, which are really good.”
But the dining experience at Coppa goes beyond the local, sustainable food, the charcuterie, or even the homemade pasta. Ciccotelli emphasized the family and neighborhood cultivated at Coppa. “The servers know the customers down to the dogs’ names,” she said.
“We are so small, only 11 tables,” Ciccotelli said. “People sometimes expect a bigger restaurant, but it isn’t run that way. People dine a little differently here. It’s small plates so they come out as they’re made.” The relaxed pacing of the meals and the semi-chaotic space only adds to the family-style feel. “Neighbors will stop in and say ‘Can you save a seat at the bar for me?'” Ciccotelli said. “These are the people we really try to get in.”
Despite the constantly evolving menu to reflect the change in seasons, the arancini, the meatballs, and the grinder are static and what Ciccotelli considers Coppa’s signature dishes. “Those are the things everyone is always asking for,” she explained.
Currently, Coppa is preparing for one of the busiest holidays at restaurants across the city-Valentine’s Day. There will be a special three-course menu featuring “Lady and the Tramp” spaghetti and meatballs, seared Foie Gras with tamarind and persimmon, and banana and Nutella bread pudding. With the holiday a little more than a week away, Coppa is already expecting a crowd-currently all the reservations are taken except 5, 5:30, and 10 p.m. They are even allowing reservations at the bar, normally a commodity reserved for the neighbor regulars and those fond of spontaneity.
Customers have described the atmosphere as a little chaotic. “The owners wanted it to be fun, the music is loud, the lights are low,” Ciccotelli said. Coupled with the plates arriving as they’re ready, the tight quarters and the friendly service, owners Oringer and Bissonnette have achieved a fun, family-style feel while still managing to provide some of the most critically acclaimed Italian food in the South End.