Brodeto | Raleigh Iron Works | Opening 2023

For athletes and artists, simplicity is often the highest form of achievement.

The rock climber Alex Honnold, for instance, describes his ropeless “free solo” ascent of the 3,000-foot cliff El Capitan as a representation of true mastery: With no gear and no partner, a single misstep would have led to sure death. A flawless performance, though—as he delivered in 2017—demonstrated the pinnacle of human athleticism.

Mark Rothko, an abstract artist known for his paintings of colorful rectangles, saw similar success after distilling his craft into its rawest form, as did the composer Frédéric Chopin, who once said that “after one has played a vast quantity of notes and more notes, it is simplicity that emerges as the crowning reward of art.”

This desire for the unadorned—for simplicity as a form of perfection—is part of what propelled the prolific chef and restaurateur Scott Crawford toward his newest venture, a Croatian-Italian eatery called Brodeto that will open at the forthcoming Raleigh Iron Works late next year.

Crawford, whose profession could reasonably be thought of as something between artist and athlete, says he came to adore food from the Adriatic region during trips to Europe with his wife, Jessica.

“You’re just having this incredible fresh fish, cooked over coals with a simple herb sauce or fresh lemon and a beautiful olive oil,” Crawford says. “When you eat that food, there’s magic to that simplicity.”

Cooking the food, though, is another matter.

“What complicates that simplicity is that you have to execute each step perfectly,” Crawford says. “There’s no room for error.”

In centering Brodeto around Adriatic cuisine, Crawford is both stripping his product down to the essentials and striving for a new level of precision—an approach that makes sense for a man who spent the past three years navigating the complexities of restaurant life under COVID-19 but who also seems to so effortlessly succeed at running restaurants that he needs a newer, bigger goal.

Since 2016, Crawford has launched Crawford & Son, an upscale eatery, and Jolie, a French bistro, in Raleigh, plus Crawford Cookshop, a neighborhood restaurant in Clayton; in the next two years, he will open Crawford Brothers Steakhouse at Cary’s Fenton development and Crawford’s Genuine at the Raleigh-Durham International Airport, in addition to Brodeto.

At Brodeto, the menu will be anchored by the restaurant’s namesake dish, a traditional fish stew with a rich, tomato-wine broth. Crawford’s version will include prawns, clams, and assorted fish, served with a side of a crusty Croatian flatbread called lepinja.

“The dish itself, brodeto, has five different versions in five different Adriatic cities,” Crawford says. “It even has different spellings based on where you are in Croatia or where you are in Italy.”

This abundance of brodeto variations in the Adriatic speaks to the importance of honoring regional distinctions on his menu, Crawford adds, noting that individual dishes at Brodeto will not offer a fusion of Italian and Croatian cuisines. While the two countries utilize similar ingredients, like seafood, blending them together on a plate would feel like dishonoring tradition, he explains.

On the Italian side, Crawford’s current menu draft includes black risotto with cuttlefish, garlic, and lemon; spaghetti with clams, porcini, and speck; and Venetian apple cake. As far as Croatian specialties, expect a pasta dish with slow-cooked beef neck pašticada and aged Pag cheese; dessert ravioli; and peka, a mixture of goat, lamb, and vegetables that is cooked in a clay pot buried beneath hot coals.

“The technique of cooking something in earthenware with coals—that’s such a cool, simple, raw way of cooking,” Crawford says.

To allow for dishes like the peka and the brodeto, which is traditionally cooked in a kettle over coals, Brodeto will have an eight-foot hearth with a live fire, visible from every seat in the restaurant.

The restaurant—which will open in the mixed-use Raleigh Iron Works development alongside familiar vendors like Ponysaurus, Eastcut Sandwich Bar, and Andia’s Ice Cream—has a massive space, which allows for versatility in seating, Crawford says.

There will be an outdoor dining garden; a few booths tucked behind drapes, for privacy; seating in front of the bar and the open kitchen; and central banquette seating, which Crawford describes as “kind of intimate but also right in the middle of the action.”

“I think this type of cuisine really lends itself to just being an extremely informal, casual, fun dining experience where the table is full of food,” Crawford says. Because Crawford is neither Italian nor Croatian, he spent years studying regional Adriatic cuisines before he felt ready to launch Brodeto.

“You need to honor tradition,” he says. “You can have creative input on this tradition, but you need to understand the history and the tradition of the food in order to do that well.”

To develop skills and familiarity around a new style of cooking, Crawford first spent time immersing himself in the culture and food scene along the Adriatic coast—“just experiencing it, and thinking, ‘Wow, this is wonderful,” he says—before proceeding to put himself through a more rigorous process of reading books about each region’s history and training with a Croatian chef.

The third step in this process is to return to the coast for a final cram session, which Crawford and Jessica plan to do this spring.

“We have to try to learn as much as we possibly can,” Crawford says. “[The intention is not] to make this 100 percent authentic—we can’t even really do that. We’re not from Croatia, we’re not from Italy, and we don’t want to pretend like we are. We just want to help people experience what we fell in love with—that beautiful simplicity.” 

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