Rush Hour: Manning the Kitchen at Coppa

Get to know the team behind your pizza and pasta at the bustling South End enoteca.

In Rush Hour, food blogger/photographer Brian Samuels hangs out at local eateries while they’re at their busiest — and finds out how they perform under pressure.

All photos by Brian Samuels.

When walking around Boston’s South End, it is easy to pass by the small restaurants tucked into its side streets. The area is known for their classy neighborhood concept restaurants and Coppa, the brainchild of chefs/owners Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette (who was recently nominated for a Best Chef: Northeast James Beard award for his work at the restaurant), is no exception. Their menu features Italian small plates that range from charcuterie to pastas and wood-fired pizzas.

The evening I stopped by Coppa, there were three individuals working the kitchen (apparently, this is always the case, as the facility simply isn’t large enough to fit additional people). J.T. DeBrie, the chef de cuisine, was at the front, reading off tickets, rolling meatballs, and finishing off dishes with oils, herbs, and cheese before they made their way out to diners. Running the wood-fire oven was Nevin Taylor, who moved efficiently through the cramped space, flinging pizza dough which was then molded and topped with everything from ramps to sausage. In the back, running the pasta station, was Brian Limoges, who remained quiet throughout my stay. He maintained focus as each order came in and, despite being tucked away, had just as much to do as his counterparts to execute Coppa’s pasta dishes.

It’s an amazing feat when people can work shoulder to shoulder and not lose their cool. But that’s exactly what the staff at Coppa manages to do. “Yes, there are challenges to working in this kitchen. It is so small that often times there is a literal case of ‘too many cooks in the kitchen,’ as they are jockeying for prep space and burners on the stove,” says GM Mary Edes. “The key is a lot of teamwork and common sense, along with being okay with losing your personal space bubble.” Watch the team in action ahead.

On an average night, Coppa does about 100 covers. Though the restaurant now takes reservations, you can still expect to wait about 45 minutes for a table for two as a walk-in.

Chef de cuisine J.T. DeBrie, here grabbing an order ticket, has been with Coppa since it opened about two and a half years ago.

DeBrie seasons what will become meatballs, one of Coppa’s top sellers (particularly at lunch). The dinnertime kitchen staff arrives at 11 a.m. each day to prep for the evening service.

Brian Limoges mans the pasta station. On average, the restaurant goes through about 40 orders of pasta each evening.

A finished order of Trophie con Pesto with fingerling potatoes and Piave cheese.

One of the night’s specials when I visited: ramp Casoncelli with beef tongue and brown butter.

Nevin Taylor was in charge of the pizza station that night (and he clearly knows his way around a ball of dough).

Coppa sells between 40 and 45 pizzas during an average dinnertime service. The most popular pizzas are the bone marrow pie (white pizza with roasted beef heart, bone marrow, celery, and horseradish) and the Parma (tomato, mozzarella, arugula and Prosciutto di Parma).

DeBrie puts the finishing touches on a small plate of broccoli rabe.

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