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Ex-Osteria 166 chef opening Clarence restaurant

The Caffe Espresso restaurant space in Clarence won't be dark long.

Jeff Cooke Jr., formerly executive chef of Osteria 166 and Ellicottville's Villagio, plans to open his first restaurant at 4401 Transit Road this summer.

His business partner will be his wife, Mandy Cooke. The couple originally met on a riverboat casino in Missouri, where he was a chef, and she was a bartender and cocktail waitress. Cooke was a professional bassist and country club chef in various settings before helping open Osteria 166 in 2013, then Villagio. It will be the Cookes' first restaurant of their own.

They hope to open by the end of July, Jeff Cooke said. It will be about 50 seats and a full bar.

Pizza will be on the opening menu, but it's not an Italian restaurant. Cooke said he's thinking of pepperoni and margherita pies, but also one featuring the flavors of the Puerto Rican tripleta sandwich, he said. "We're going to do some different takes on pizza, some with cool vegetable ingredients on top."

Housemade pierogi stuffed with housemade farmer's cheese or smoked pulled pork are coming too, and a poblano pepper stuffed with housemade chorizo, battered and deep-fried. Expect a raw bar, with oysters, all week long.

"The more I think of what is it going to be," he said, "it's going to be whatever the heck we want to do that makes people happy."

(Hat tip: Howard Goldman)

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