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June 28, 2021
Come for the Cookbooks, Stay for the Arancine

Meet Paige Lipari, chef and owner of Greenpoint’s expanding Archestratus empire.

Paige Lipari on a restful day off, her only one each week, isn’t restful one bit. On a recent weekday in June it was a chain-link fence of labor and leisure connecting a family Zoom session, a driving lesson, a guitar lesson, a talk therapy session, an interview with this excitable and probing reporter, the creation of a playlist, and a run to the store to pick up some Benjamin Moore paint. “I’ll probably give them some dirty looks and some smiles,” says Lipari, 34, of the crew currently building out the exciting new expansion of Archestratus, her Greenpoint, Brooklyn, café and cookbook store.

For over six years, the store—stacked neatly with copies of new and used titles, as well as dusty magazines and long-forgotten reference materials with a stellar Sicilian restaurant and wine bar wedged in the back—has become one of New York City’s go-to spots for exceptionally curated book browsing paired with molten arancine (Lipari’s preferred spelling) and fried chicken thigh and lemon mayo sandwiches. The joy of shopping at Archestratus is embodied perfectly in this laugh-filled interview that revealed some of the store’s expansion plans, as well as a couple of Lipari’s favorite books to look for this fall. The store is currently preselling classes and dinners that will relaunch soon. Check out the rundown on the Archestratus website.

You roasted chicken last night. And you mentioned in Instagram stories that there’s 300 ways to roast chicken. Have you roasted 300 chickens?
Oh my God, at least! [Laughs] At least 300 chickens! Like for me, it’s a weekly thing and it takes about six days to forget the last time I roasted chicken. So it’s like, I roast a chicken and it’s the greatest chicken I’ve ever had, and then six days later I forget how I roasted the chicken, but I know I really need to make another roast chicken, and then I just do that over and over again.

I love it. So what chickens do you buy, and what was your method last night?
I am completely never going back; Grassland Farms is where we get our chickens that we sell at the shop and we have a lot of Grassland chicken heads that come in every week and buy these chickens to cook at home. The method that I did last night, I usually roast in a cast-iron pan, a small pan, that doesn’t have a lot of open space around the chicken. And I put potatoes around the bottom, and I cover all the potatoes with the chicken itself. And then just—last night, at least—I actually had several Zooms, and could not tend to the chicken; I went the route of lower and slower, so I did 350 for an hour, and then covered it with foil, and I had put some tamarind chutney that a customer gave me—and it was very spicy and delicious—so I put some of that on there, and then just salt and olive oil, and that was it. And then I roasted it another hour with the aluminum foil on it, and then let it rest for half an hour.

What were you doing before opening Archestratus?
I was working in different museums and different bookstores around New York and worked at A Public Space, which is a literary magazine; I did some assistant editing there for a few years. I worked at Housing Works bookstore in the subbasement working on rare and antiquarian books; I worked at McNally Jackson and revamped the cookbook section for them. Idlewild, and Barnes & Noble when I was 19; I just kind of bopped around different bookstores and different rare and antiquarian internships. In college, I kind of started to formulate how I like to work—always mixing music, art, and poetry. And world-making. So, the song sometimes begets the illustration, and then there’s a poem, and it’s all kind of part of the same world. And so, I lost someone very close to me, and was like, I’m just going to do the thing I want to do, and just started taking every business class I could for free in New York, and started writing my business plan, and opened the store when I was 28.

And always a bookstore tied to food?
Yeah, so, I always knew I wanted a space, like my grandparents had a latticini freschi [a shop selling fresh dairy products, including cheese] called Lipari & Son in Bushwick, and I grew up hearing stories about that throughout my whole childhood. So I always knew I wanted a bookstore, and I started to formulate as far as what kind of bookstore I would want. When I was 18, I went to Sicily and met my family and came back and I was like—“Oh. I’m obsessed.” [Laughs] And cooking Sicilian food is now my greatest passion and makes me feel close to my heritage and my culture, and so I started collecting cookbooks too.

I love the way that you buy for your store, and Archestratus definitely has a voice; your buying of both new and used cookbooks and magazines is just so eclectic and fun. Where do you like to buy books?
The thing that I miss from before COVID is that I would go to all these different church sales and library sales and pool sales, and my favorite thing in the whole world is to just go picking. It’s a whole scene. If I’m going to a book sale, it’s kind of this combination of knowledge of the history of cookbooks, the market and what I know, but really it’s much more about synchronicity, and what excites me. I just go really fast and don’t really linger, and just use a lot of instinctual parts of myself. [Laughs] When it comes to new books, I’ve been really lucky in the last six years to really grasp the writers that are putting out things that are authentic and really meaningful, because there’s so many cookbooks that are out there—

Oh my gosh, yeah.
And there are so many things that I don’t bring into the store. When it comes to some of the new stuff, it’s like—of course if there’s a particular need, I like to make sure that we have a reference for those things. But the things that I like to do events for, and have conversations about, and highlight in the Cookbook Club, are stories coming from people, and that’s kind of why the store is called Archestratus, after a person, because I think that the voice is the most important thing in a cookbook.

Where did you learn to cook? Because your food is ridiculously good.
Thank you! I’m a latchkey kid, and I grew up cooking for myself all the time. And my mom always was a good cook—she never really cooked the stuff I’m making, but she was always a good cook and a good baker. But she worked all the time, so it was a lot of me fending for myself, and also, my Nonna, who stopped cooking for us probably when I was around 16, 17 years old, because she started to develop dementia—but from birth to around 16, 17 years old, I got to taste the greatest cooking ever in the whole world, that ever was. [Laughing] For me, that’s how I feel about it. We would go to restaurants on Long Island, and to all these other meals at all these other homes and the other food that I would eat, I’d be like, “This is fine,” but when you go to Nonna’s, it just has all this other stuff and it’s incredible.

What was she cooking?
She grew things in the garden, and everything was so fresh, the olive oil was so good, the flavors were really unique and it took me a while to wrap my head around what was really going on. And when I was around 24, living at home and starting to write my business plan, I really took months where every single day, I obsessively tested recipes of just the things that I wanted to—and it had nothing to do with the store. It had to do with holding on and getting down pat these family recipes, because she was starting to fade—

So arancine, one of your signatures, was clearly one of the dishes, but tell me a few of the other dishes.
No, she never made arancine. [Laughs] She never baked either. The thing that I loved that she would make were her meatballs, her tomato sauce, her eggplant parm, lamb spitzadele which is like—with onions, red wine, and potatoes. It’s maybe only, like, 10 to 15 dishes, like her stuffed artichokes, then the rest is just my cooking.

You just intuited it? Versus any formal training? I mean arancine, it’s a real art, and they’re so bad when they’re bad.
Yeah, but I don’t know why. [Laughs] Like, I would go to places and I would be, like, “I don’t understand why they have to be bad.”

I don’t like to be, like, “I have an amazing talent or skill.” Nothing that I’m doing is complicated. Nothing that I’m doing can’t be replicated at home. It’s literally just—figuring out the way that tastes good. I’m just trying to make that happen. And I don’t think that there’s any trickery. I don’t use any secret ingredients. It’s just understanding and developing—maybe a flavor, that it can be salty and sweet, and sour—

So how do you balance cooking then, because it’s a full-time job to cook, and you’re back there cooking a lot, but then you’ve got this retail space that has its own heart and brain and soul, but you’ve got two things, so how do you do both?
Yeah, and there also used to be events, and groceries—

Yeah, classes too.
Classes. I try not to drive myself insane. So we don’t have three arancine, we have one to two arancine. I try to make sure that right now, especially right at this moment, that all the things are fed just enough to kind of keep going. And I do really look forward to the day that I have a staff. And the goal is not to do everything and to be a martyr; the goal is to have a staff. And to train people and have a kitchen, and to just be a guest star and pop in and make specials. And just have quality control and just make sure that everything is tasting right. But yeah, it is a little crazy right now. I’m doing a little too much. But, I know sort of where we’re headed, it’s the way [that] feels right for the business, and it’s the way that the business can have a full staff and be profitable. So it’s just this little chug and chug and chuggin’ along until we get to the right—

What are your expansion plans?
I’ve never wanted to franchise or have more locations; that’s just not for me.

Very smart.
I just want to stay close, and be here and grow something and develop it, and I feel like that’s kind of—with this new expansion, it’s just like six years of development in all of these areas of the shop and what we do, and just making them better and making them clearer. So we do four things, is how I kind of explain it: We do books, we do events, we do the Sicilian café, and we’re doing groceries—

Which I love. They are great groceries.
Oh good, I love it too. I love doing it. I love having them there. The new space is going to be this big, beautiful bookstore, where we’re going to have a very small kitchen element, that’s just for people for when we do events; in the evenings, we can serve beer and wine, we can have arancine, which is what we used to do at our book events. The kitchen also during the day is going to be a great place for people to shop; like, the teapot on the stove will be for sale. And baking stuff, like that. So that’s sort of the new space. And then the older space is going to be expanded café seating, and expanded café menu. Which was always an issue for us; we used to have to turn the bookcases, and it was a little crowded. So now there will be two or three times more seating. And also, expanded grocery.

Mmm, there we go.
Italian dry goods and some more prepared foods in that refrigerator. And also a nice little area up at the front where—that is where you buy your groceries, where you order wine, where you get coffee—this nice, new area up front. And so also, now, what it means is that we have two event spaces. So while a pop-up dinner is going on in one space, we could have a book event in the other space, or we could have more community events. I’m usually cooking in the cooking space, but what that means is, before the bookstore’s open, it’s this dry, quiet space where we can have sound baths and tai chi. [Laughs] You know? We can really do whatever we want.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

We asked Paige Lipari for four of the books, among many books, she is looking forward to having in the store this fall.

Black Food: Stories, Art, and Recipes from Across the African Diaspora, edited by Bryant Terry
“I have loved both of Bryant’s previous books so much and we did Afro-Vegan as one of our first Cookbook Clubs. He’s someone that absolutely has so much heart and genuine love and passion for bringing people together over food, in a very organic way—and in a way that doesn’t feel performative either. He’s just oozing with genuine good energy. And it comes through the food. And I mean, what is food but this energy transmission healing art form?”

That Sounds So Good: 100 Real-Life Recipes for Every Day of the Week, by Carla Lalli Music
“Carla is someone that eats, sleeps, breathes food in this way that I think is just so grounded and earthy. She’s a friend of the shop and has done things for us; that’s not why I’m calling out her [book]. Her first one just really thought about the reader. I like books that really think about cooking at home. There’s also this humor, but there’s none of that bravado. It’s not, ‘Don’t worry about it; it’s fine,’ but ‘Don’t worry about it. It is fine!’ There’s just something very gentle. [Laughs] Like whatever you have, ‘It’s OK.’ It’s almost like—without her sounding like a super Laurie Anderson disembodied voice—there’s this kind of like… ‘It’s OK.’ A constant, ‘It’s OK.’ But not in a way that’s projecting onto you. It’s like actually reading the room, and knowing those spots where people can get a little insecure about things, and just easing people into these recipes.”

From Gujarat With Love: 100 Authentic Indian Vegetarian Recipes, by Vina Patel
“I’ll be honest, I haven’t tried these recipes, I don’t know this author, but I love and am excited by Gujarati cuisine, and I’m excited that more books are coming out about it.”

Take One Fish: The New School of Scale-to-Tail Cooking and Eating, by Josh Niland
“I loved his first book and he actually came to the store, and I interviewed him and had the most wonderful conversation. I really feel like—yeah, of course he is part of this sort of competitive male chef energy—but he would be doing this whether or not anyone was watching him. He’s so passionate about what he does; he’s an artist, and a poet, he uses form and content, he uses synchronicity—he’s a really interesting person.”

Matt Rodbard

Matt Rodbard is the editor in chief of TASTE and author of Koreatown: A Cookbook, a New York Times best-seller, and Food IQ: 100 Questions, Answers, and Recipes to Raise Your Cooking Smarts.