La Piazza in Williamsburg

After a 40-year run, The Trellis inspires La Piazza.

Williamsburg welcomes 1.5 million tourists each year, but it’s also home to a world-class culinary scene. And for more than three decades, David Everett has been at its forefront, building the area’s reputation as a serious food destination. 

Everett is the chef-entrepreneur behind Blackbird Bakery, DoG Street Pub, and the upscale Blue Talon Bistro, the lively space where clips of vintage Julia Child shows play behind the bar. With his latest venture, the modern bistro La Piazza, Everett brings Northern Italian classics to the hallowed culinary ground once occupied by The Trellis, the legendary restaurant founded by chef Marcel Desaulniers.

Soon after opening its doors in 1980, The Trellis put the region on the global culinary map, garnering international acclaim and earning Desaulniers four James Beard awards, including Best Pastry Chef in America and Best Chef in the Mid-Atlantic. He also authored 10 books on cooking.

After a nearly 30-year run, Desaulniers sold The Trellis to Everett in 2009, leaving high expectations and big chef’s clogs to fill. Everett filled them spectacularly for a decade, maintaining The Trellis’ exceptionally high standards and continuing to offer Desaulniers’ famous Death by Chocolate, the seven-layer chocolate torte that became synonymous with the restaurant itself. 

“The Trellis was iconic in its time,” Everett says. “People had an emotional connection to it. But after 40 years, it was just iconic.” By the time he closed The Trellis in March, 2020, Everett had set plans for La Piazza in motion, but the sleek Northern Italian bistro opened the next month to little fanfare. “We couldn’t gather people,” Everett says of the timing, “but we didn’t have the luxury of waiting.” 

The space, which once seated 250 diners, has been reduced by half. With a vaulted ceiling and minimalist décor, the bistro feels modern, bright, and lively. The bar, situated between the two dining areas, is its centerpiece—and the perfect place to join the action and sip Italian-inspired cocktails, spritzes, and house-made limoncello. So I grab a seat and peruse the menu.

Don’t be fooled by the kids’ offerings. “In Merchant’s Square we have to appeal to students, tourists, families, and fine diners,” says Everett, who’s enjoying the shift to well-executed bistro cuisine. “You can have a nice romantic dinner, a family meal, or an inexpensive pasta. Either way, it’s a great dining experience that feels more approachable.” 

The pastas here are all house-made, so the tortellini panna and the pappardelle with mushrooms, cippolini onions, and pecorino cheese intrigue. But first, cocktails. 

I start with a Hugo, a refreshing aperitif that originated in the South Tyrol region of Northern Italy. Light and effervescent, it’s made with prosecco, elderflower syrup, and seltzer dressed with mint. It’s classically delicious. 

For dinner, I’m tempted by the seafood spaghetti. It’s chock full of scallops, salmon, shrimp, mussels, and clams and topped with a lemon cream sauce. But my bar companion can’t resist offering me her advice: “It’s all good, but you must go with the eggplant Parmesan,” she says, “it’s heavenly.” Her dinner partner suggests the Bolognese. “Best around,” he notes.  

La Piazza has its evangelists, and I’m meeting two of them tonight. Their hearty endorsements speak to head Chef Mary Zaragoza and Pastry Chef Heather Defreitas, both accomplished in their own right. 

For a starter, I’m torn between the burrata special, the meatballs, and the fritto misto—think calamari on steroids: this version includes shrimp and scallops along with the traditional lemon and marinara sauce. “Get the meatballs,” my seatmates say in unison. That’s what I love about dining at the bar—culinary camaraderie. 

And they’re right. A delicious blend of beef, pork, and veal, the meatballs are roasted with house spices, dressed with a light, fresh-made tomato sauce and a sprinkle of Parmesan, and served with a side of ciabatta. They’re flavorful and no-nonsense, as meatballs should be.

A server whizzes by carrying the salmon entrée. Accompanied with grilled polenta and sautéed green beans, it’s a lovely dish. And while I trust the rave reviews from my neighbors, the short rib bucatini calls to me. It’s seared with mirepoix and cinnamon, then deglazed with red wine and slowly braised in tomato sauce for 24 hours. The result is a bowl of melt-in-your-mouth meat served over perfectly textured pasta, tender but firm and rich in flavor. 

For dessert, there’s a ricotta cake with citrus glaze and fresh berries, cannoli, and a limoncello cake, but I go with a classic tiramisu. Paired with an espresso, the slightly sweet airy mascarpone evaporates with the first bite. The ladyfingers, soaked in espresso yet still firm, provide an almost bitter finish, balancing the sweetness for a delicious conclusion.

In fact, an evening at La Piazza can best be described as balanced. Everything—from the flavors and textures, accoutrements, and welcoming atmosphere—comes together to create an altogether pleasurable dining experience. And in a tourist town especially, it takes a thoughtful menu and deft hands in the kitchen to please both vacationing families and hometown foodies.

Everett and his team have found this all-important balance. Everyone, from parents toting hungry kids, to solo diners, to a date-night couple out for a great meal—can enjoy innovative flavors in this lively new space that feels fresh, thoughtful, and welcoming. 

This article originally appeared in the February 2023 issue.

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