The cliffs of the Amalfi Coast may be far away, but the kitchen is closer than you think. In a few weeks, the doors of Primo Waterfront will open, bringing seafood-centric coastal Italian cuisine to the Hudson River waterfront in Newburgh. “The question we asked ourselves when we developed the concept is, ‘what would it be like if you were at a beach club on the Italian coast?'” explains Jesse Camac, owner of Primo.
A longtime dream come true
Camac had wanted to own a waterfront restaurant since he started working in the industry in 2005. He teamed up with his father and chef Zak Pelaccio to launch the now-defunct Fatty Crab empire , with 10 locations from New York to Hong Kong. In 2018 he moved to Poughkeepsie and opened Heritage Food + Drink in Wappingers Falls.
With a few years at Heritage under his belt, Camac was eager to open another restaurant. Last summer, he learned that the former location of Italian restaurant Cena 2000 was available for rent. He decided to launch the waterfront establishment he had always imagined. “I’ve always loved Newburgh’s seafront in the seven years I’ve been here,” Camac says. “It felt right to me and it was the right opportunity for a high end premium concept in the area.”
Camac knew he wanted to serve Italian cuisine, consistent with Cena 2000’s offerings. He and Frank Camey, a chef at Heritage, weren’t sure what style of Italian cuisine they wanted to do, until what Ralph Bello happens. Bello approached the couple seeking a chef position after working at Fishkill’s now-shuttered Italian establishment Il Barilotto, and Camac asked if he was interested in developing Primo’s menu. “In that first meeting at the table, the three of us looked at each other and knew this was the right team,” Camac explains.
With Bello’s help, the trio settled on coastal Italian cuisine. “In Manhattan, it’s not too easy to find a space by the water. We just felt like the stars were aligning and it made sense to do that in this space,” Camac says. When Primo opens, Bello will serve as its executive chef and Camey will serve as the business leader for Primo and Heritage.
Fare focused on seafood
Primo’s menu is different from what Camac calls “typical red sauce” Italian cuisine. It is seafood-focused and will use local produce and meats. Camac’s wife’s family has been in agriculture for decades and he appreciates being able to build direct relationships with farmers. “We know it’s been processed correctly and it’s going to be the best product it can be,” says Camac.
Bello’s expertise in making pasta makes these dishes one of the restaurant’s specialties. A prawn casarecce, consisting of prawns, Calabrian chili and basil in a cream sauce, will be available, as well as octopus pacheri, consisting of octopus braised in red wine with bone marrow. “We try to use ingredients that aren’t normally seen. You might see king crab in pasta or spot shrimp,” says Camac. There are also non-seafood dishes, including sweet sausage gnocchi and brick chicken served with parmesan polenta.
One of the offerings that Camac is most excited about is the crudo and raw bar, partly inspired by the best restaurants in New York. Camac asked his friend John Daly, who cooked at the star-studded establishment Masa, to teach him and Bello how to prepare raw fish. “What we didn’t want to do was have a Japanese crudo program where there’s soy sauce and wasabi on everything,” Camac explains. “They really collaborated together.” Daly’s Japanese techniques combine with Bello’s Italian flavors to result in dishes like Montauk fluke with pistachio, ponzu, chives and olive oil. Another dish on offer will be strawberry, basil and pink peppercorn flounder, as well as oysters and king crabs.
There is also an extensive drinks menu. In addition to beer, sake, and wine, there are several choices of craft cocktails. Sip on “Derby Day,” made with cardamom-infused bourbon, lemon, honey, and mint. Frozen cocktails like the “Mai Tai”, made with Appleton rum, pineapple, orgeat syrup, curaçao and lime, will also be available. A gin and tonic menu includes variations on the theme, such as ‘Malfy Gin’, made with watermelon, mint and cardamom, and ‘Stray Dog Wild Gin’, made with rosemary, pink peppercorns, pomegranate and Aegean tonic.
Create an inviting space
The space gives the feeling of a coastal getaway, with walls of windows, indoor and outdoor bars, and a patio that can accommodate up to 170 people. “We have a very open concept. All sliders open to keep that fresh, natural air entering the space, even if you’re not sitting outside,” Camac explains. “We really designed the whole restaurant so that most of the seats face the water. We want it to be functionality.
Although the food and space are more upscale, Camac still wants to create an inviting atmosphere. “We try to make restaurants fun, whether we’re selling a $4 burger or a $90 steak for two,” Camac says. When Primo opens, he hopes customers will see his team’s hard work pay off. “We just want to have fun while we work, and we want our guests to have fun,” he says. “Right now, we’re focused on making Primo the best restaurant it can be.”
Primo will be open to the public in the coming weeks. For updates, visit their website or follow them on Instagram and Facebook.
50 Front Street, Newburgh