When Thomas Litrenta became an executive chef at Maria Hines's Agrodolce over a year ago, he told her that he wanted to open a neighborhood Italian joint of his own someday. "That made him a perfect fit here," says Hines. "I thought, it'll be such good experience when he does go out and opens his own place."
Well, Litrenta won't have to go far to realize such a vision. This week he takes over as the new chef-owner of Agrodolce.
Hines, the James Beard Award–winning chef who shuttered her Ballard Golden Beetle in 2016 and pivoted the Mediterranean spot into Young American Ale House, has decided to step back from her Italian restaurant in Fremont to focus on a plateful of other projects. Litrenta was a natural fit to buy the restaurant. "Currently, it's basically all his menu," she says. She's always rotated her menus each month, but Litrenta is so full of ideas that he changes it up every two weeks.
Hines will continue to run Tilth, her groundbreaking organic restaurant in Wallingford. She's made promises to not give away the details of her other upcoming projects, but hints that they'll involve cookbook writing and more sustainable food advocacy.
Agrodolce fans can rest easy knowing that much will remain the same. Dinner, lunch, weekend—all still here. The name is staying, and "he'll keep using pasta recipes which we've spent over five years developing." Old mainstays, like charred broccoli with anchovy mayo and a classic ragu, will still be on the menu. And though Hines won't be officially part of the new Agrodolce, she won't be far away. "He's family to me. If he calls me, I'll be right there—I live right down the street."
As for Litrenta, "he's been cooking Italian food since before his head was up above the countertop," says Hines. His family is Neapolitan and Calabrian, and he learned to make pasta by hand with his great-grandmother. He's worked in kitchens for the last 26 years, including stints at Westward, Ernest Loves Agnes, and Szmania’s before landing at Agrodolce. Like Hines, he's interested in locally sourced, in-season ingredients, and plans to introduce more Sicilian-inspired dishes.
"It's fun to pass on the torch," says Hines. "I was given that opportunity with Tilth: I had some people who believed in me give me a start on my first restaurant, and now I get to be part of that dream by helping him get his start. That's the beauty of the Seattle restaurant community. We embrace each other, we want to help each other out."