"If you ever get lonely, just go to the record store and visit your friends," Penny Lane says in a singsongy way in Almost Famous. For avid cooks, the same can be said for the cookbook section of a bookstore, which is why walking into Archestratus, a new cookbook store, café and food-focused community space in Brooklyn, feels so warm and familiar.
"I always knew I wanted to have a bookstore. I always knew I wanted to have a store . . . I think it's in my DNA," owner Paige Lipari explains to me as she bakes rainbow cookies in the shop's kitchen. It is indeed in her DNA. Her grandparents owned a small Italian grocery store specializing in freshly made mozzarella and ricotta in Brooklyn in the 40s and 50s.
The walls of her shop are covered with cookbooks: Newer titles like Tartine No. 3, Fire + Ice and Prune stand right alongside vintage ones in a curated hodgepodge. "I go to book sales, like library sales and school sales and some book sellers. I pick around; I pick up things that are historically great," she says, from "Julia Child to Craig Claiborne, to what I would want to read if I saw it in a bookstore."
Bizarrely enough, Lipari learned about buying historical books while working at a now-shuttered Chelsea Barnes & Noble that kept a large selection of art and out-of-print books. "I learned a lot about rare books in the basement [there]," she explains, acknowledging the irony.
Folded into her store's collection are reprints of historical titles like The Life of Luxury, a book on Sicilian cooking from around 330 BCE written by the store's namesake, Archestratus. "He's very funny," Lipari says. "There are a lot of older cookbooks that aren't paid attention to anymore but should be," like a reprint of the The Virginia Housewife—many consider it to be the oldest American cookbook—which she carries.
Despite the hundreds of titles in her store, she says, "I think of this place as more of a community space." The back half of the store is a café where Lipani serves coffee and Sicilian-inspired snacks like those rainbow cookies, jasmine-infused buranelli (or S cookies) and old lace cookies with pistachios and cardamom. Throughout the shop, there are little nods to Sicily, where Lipari's family is from and where she developed a love of cookbooks during a visit almost a decade ago.
On Thursday nights, she cooks a Sicilian dinner—a "blue plate special," as she describes it. Last week's menu consisted of pasta con sarde (pasta with sardines, raisins, pine nuts and fennel) alongside a string bean salad and cauliflower with black olives, Parmesan and pistachios. She also plans to launch an Italian night on Wednesdays during which Italian speakers can go and practice. Events like a whiskey-and-cheese pairing tutorial and a pie-making class for the holidays are on the calendar, and Lipari has plans for more.
So if you're in Brooklyn and feeling lonely, just follow Penny Lane's advice—well, a version of it anyway.
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