A pair of local entrepreneurs are working to bring a new take on authentic Italian cuisine to downtown Tuscaloosa in the now-being-renovated former home of Sweet Home Food Bar.

As the Thread first reported, the locally loved hidden gem has permanently closed after 10 years on University Boulevard downtown. Now, owner Christian Williams and general manager Brandon Pritts are working in overdrive to remodel the space and open a new restaurant as soon as next month.

Williams is a marketing expert and food distributor and Pritts is a chef who cut his teeth with other big-name Tuscaloosa restaurateurs at Desperado's Steakhouse and Cypress Inn.

Together, they're working to open Sugo Italian Restaurant in the Sweet Home space at 2218 University Boulevard next to Black Warrior Brewing Company.

(Stephen Dethrage | Tuscaloosa Thread)
(Visit Tuscaloosa on Facebook)

The duo joined the Thread for a joint Monday interview to preview the concept.

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"Traditionally in Italy, they call their red sauce either 'Sugo' or 'Ragu.'" Williams said.

"Sugo primarily is a base tomato sauce, whereas with ragu you add either mushroom, a meat base or something similar to go with it," Pritt added.

"As we thought about names, Ragu has become a very commercialized name in the US
so Sugo felt like the better choice," Williams said. "It's catchy. We felt like it was a name that could be easily remembered and it creates a question in everybody's mind. What does it mean? What is the story behind it?"

The story is pretty simple - Williams and Pritts say they want to join the downtown community and complement the restaurants and bars that already thrive there, not compete against them.

Sugo will feature primarily Italian food with some Mediterranean components, all scratch-made with fresh ingredients sourced from Italy when costs allow.

"Brandon has worked hard to come up with some pretty exciting, authentic dishes and our sauces especially," Williams said. "We want to provide Tuscaloosa a new Italian experience that's not Americanized as much, that's authentic to the region, knowing that we still have to have a basis in some traditional, accepted dishes. I can't imagine a scenario where you don't have a chicken alfredo in your Italian restaurant and you don't get kicked out of town."

"Our pomodoro sauce, it's not Prego out of a jar," Pritts said. "It's imported San Marzano tomatoes, olive oil, salt, onion, garlic and at the very end of cooking, just before service, finished with fresh basil. It's going to be very true to what Italian cooking is - showing reverence for your ingredients and treating them properly."

That reverence will be a core tenet at Sugo, where Pritts said even the humble Ceasar salad dressing will be made with imported Italian anchovy paste to ensure it's as authentic as possible.

Pritts said he expects first-time visitors will fall in love with a homemade tiramisu he's working on developing with a red velvet cake base to create a uniquely Alabama crimson-tinted treat.

Williams, a seafood lover, said his favorite offerings they've crafted so far feature authentic Mediterranean bronzini seabass - another testament to their sharp focus on quality ingredients.

"We're going to be a mostly scratch kitchen with fresh-as-possible ingredients including some we import, just the best-possible ingredients we can source and keep everything reasonable," Pritts said. "We don't want to scare people off in pricepoint, but we also want them to understand that they're getting a value for the quality of their meal."


"From an environmental standpoint, we want people to feel like this is their locally-owned family restaurant," Williams added. "We want them to have the confidence to come here, be treated like they matter to us and have a consistently excellent meal every time."

Both men also talked about how important it is for them to fit into the downtown community, to build relationships with locals, visitors and students alike and to find ways to give back to the Tuscaloosa area.

They aim to have Sugo open sometime in April, and said locals will have the opportunity this summer to come try out this new menu while the city's more than 46,000 college students are on break.

"I hope people have an open mind and come give both lunch and dinner a full try because there will be varietals on each, and I hope they give feedback," Williams said. "We'll get better and better if people tell us what they really like or what wasn't their favorite because that's how a restaurant improves."

Follow their progress on Instagram @sugottown, and stay connected to the Tuscaloosa Thread for more exclusive coverage of restaurant and retail development in West Alabama.

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