Back in December, when I spoke to Jason Stratton about his new gig overseeing a creative taco menu, I asked—do you miss Italian food?
He gave me a lovely—if circumspect—response in that moment, but it seems the answer was yes. Stratton will take over as chef at Mezzanotte, the new-ish restaurant in Georgetown, when it reopens in mid-April. The move means one of the town’s most notable Italian chefs will once again dedicate himself to pasta and the flavors of northern Italy.
It also feels like a cool confluence of personalities. Mezzanotte owner Marcus Lalario (also behind Lil Woody’s, Ciudad, Fat’s Chicken and Waffles, plus a pair of well-regarded streetwear lines) apparently enjoys supporting people’s creative vision. And Stratton possesses an inordinate amount of it.
Mezzanotte will return, for now, in the form of a large tented space in the building’s impressive courtyard at 1210 South Bailey Street in Georgetown, plus takeout. The atmosphere will remain in the “paper napkins and butcher paper on tabletops” zone, but the incoming chef wants to delve further into flavors of Piedmont in northern Italy—“interesting, complex ragus, things like that.” He’s also excited to expand the antipasti lineup. “Having a spread of sick little dishes that are seasonal is a great way to spend an early, beautiful evening and then move into some pastas,” says Stratton.
Ah, yes—pasta. It’s been foundational to his career, first at Cafe Juanita, then Spinasse. Even at Middle Eastern–rooted mBar, he still incorporated a respectable pasta program (and even flexed those skills occasionally on his Top Chef stint). In 2019, Stratton departed his longtime post at mBar to oversee some updates at longtime Portland restaurant 3 Doors Down.
"My goal is always to get people to try things they may not," he says. "What better format than pasta?" After Standard Brewing's food truck–size kitchen, Stratton feels well equipped to extrude and hand form pasta in Mezzanotte’s compact quarters. He's playing with an opening menu that includes rigatoni with green chickpeas and prosciutto and spaghetti with a ragu of anchovy and duck. Yes, he'll make a tajarin, garnished with salsiccia di Bra. I'm trying really hard to manage my own expectations here, but it's awfully tempting to remember the transcendent meals Stratton made at Spinasse.
Lalario opened Mezzanotte this past summer, making good on a longstanding desire for an Italian restaurant, though the first iteration was a bit more straightforward (it shut down temporarily in December). Despite creating a burger for an early Lil Woody's burger month, Stratton didn't really know the restaurateur—fellow Italophile Melissa Miranda connected the two of them. Stratton's knowledge of Italian food is downright scholarly; he says they promptly bonded over Lalario's Piedmont roots, which should display themselves more fully in dishes like porchetta tonnata and Stratton's take on a Lalario favorite, pollo en carpione.
The menu will likely evolve once Mezzanotte ventures toward indoor dining, but both chef and owner share an affinity for popups and collaborations. "There's a lot brewing down the pipeline," says Stratton. Meanwhile, track the reopening date on Mezzanotte's Instagram.