Speck Italian Eatery is a recently-opened restaurant at 15 E. Winter St. in downtown Delaware, and the latest dining experience from acclaimed Chef Joshua Dalton.
“To me, Italian means whatever is in abundance, fresh and simply done,” Dalton said, while he was in the kitchen preparing a steak sous-vide style and topped with gorgonzola cheese for a possible menu item. “I don’t want people to think they can get meatballs and spaghetti — every once in a while we’ll have one, but if I feel like a Thai dish, I’ll make it inspired by Italian.
“I might not change the menu at all this week,” Dalton, 36, continued. “I might change it three times next week, whenever I see something that inspires me, once produce starts coming in. If someone brings me in 20 heads of cauliflower, you’re going to see it on the menu. That’s kind of the idea of this place, whatever is in abundance, you’re going to see a lot — whatever needs to be cooked that day.”
Dalton, a passionate cook who is camera-shy and avoids reading about himself, spoke of dishes using carrots and tomatoes. A visit to Speck’s Facebook page emphasized fresh morels (mushrooms) for topping 40-day, dry-aged, bone-in ribeye.
This is a contrast from Dalton’s Veritas, where “we manipulate the food, we sometimes do a lot of things to the ingredients to make it look layered, to taste a certain way. This (Speck) is letting them taste the way they’re supposed to taste, let nature do it’s work.”
The local community may remember that Veritas (meaning truth), which opened in Delaware in 2012 where Speck is now and was quickly named “Best New Restaurant in Columbus,” moved to 11 W. Gay St. in Columbus last year. Veritas restaurant has a small-plate tasting menu that is meant to be shared.
Speck is also next door to Dalton’s other gustatory entree — 1808 American Bistro at 29 E. Winter St., which is named for the year the city of Delaware was founded. Dalton is currently the main cook at Speck, but he said he divides his time as needed among the three restaurants. Work days lasting 12-16 hours are not unusual for him, but he’s hoping to hire another cook to devote equal time to his establishments.
Opening at 5 p.m., Speck seats 34 (20 at tables and 14 at the bar), with reservations available for tables on the Open Table application. Because of Speck’s cozy confines, the menu warns, “We are not able to accommodate any substitutions or alterations to our dishes.”
Walk-ins can belly up to the bar, which serves signature cocktails, limoncello, Peroni, and San Pelligrino. A Speck specialty is its Amaro list — Italian for “bitter,” Amaro are herbal liqueurs meant for drinking after dinner. For the novice, start with the Cardamaro (made from globe artichoke and blessed thistle) and work your way down the list.
Tito Paul, a former Ohio State football player who has a business next door, is a regular walk-in customer. He raved about the shaved mortadella sandwich; white asparagus with egg and pancetta vinaigrette; wings; sausage and mushroom fettuccine in a cream sauce; mushroom polenta; and deep-sea red crab linguine.
During a recent visit, a diner new to Speck enjoyed fried oysters with a smoked paprika aoli sauce; and a comforting “Green Goddess Pasta” entree of house-made spaghetti, large green Castellano olives, herbs, crumbs and boutargue. The latter is “a dried aged cod roe,” said Abby Cottongim, beverage & events manager. “It looks like it comes in a long bar of soap. It doesn’t really add a fishy taste, it’s more of an umami flavor. You can add it as a topping with cheese, it tastes great.”
As one can tell from the ingredients, Speck is Italian for foodies.
“We consider ourselves modern Italian,” Cottongim said. “We have a small menu, but we focus on seasonal ingredients. I think a lot of people come in and they’re surprised that we don’t have chicken fettuccine alfredo, but I think that there’s a lot of restaurants where you can go to get that, and we’re trying something a little bit different for those who are more adventurous. If people are willing to step out of their comfort zone a little bit, I think they’re going to be really happy.”
When it came to the restaurant’s name, Cottongim said it came from Dalton “brainstorming all of the Italian ingredients he could think of. When he came to the word Speck, which is an Italian cured ham, very similar to prosciutto, from the Northern part of Italy in the Alto Adige region, he liked the way the word rolled off the tongue. We tried to think of something better. But, Speck remained our favorite choice.”