“Garden and Sea” in Morningside Heights

Owners Arta and Alfredo Hila (from left) with a family member and pizzaiolo from Rome at a Food Expo at Columbia University. Photo courtesy of Ortomare
A restaurateur with experience in real estate opens a new family-run Italian eatery
By Jason Cohen

Morningside Heights is now home to a new restaurant featuring authentic Italian cuisine.

Located at 994 Columbus Avenue and 109th Street, Ortomare Ristorante Pizzeria opened its doors in early February. The eatery is a small family-run place, owned by husband and wife Alfredo and Arta Hila and Eddie Hila, Alfredo’s brother.

“Everybody who worked in the restaurant industry a long time our goal is to open one,” Alfredo said.

The restaurant seats 60 people and provides a warm cozy atmosphere with affordable prices. It offers ravioli, fresh vegetables, homemade fettuccine, grilled salmon, brick oven pizza, tiramisu, wine and much more. Its signature dishes are Appetizer Ortomare, Papardelle Ortomare and Pizza Ortomare. More importantly, its lunch of two courses only costs $14 and three courses is $18.

The name — Orto e mare, translated to “Garden and Sea” in Italian — means to prepare meals with the highest quality ingredients from the land and the sea.

Born in Albania, Alfredo moved to Rome at the age of seven. It was there where he learned about food, restaurants and found his passion. He worked for his uncle Clementine in his restaurant and many others for 15 years, helping him master his trade.

However, in 2010, his wife came to America to study at Columbia University for her Ph.D. in international law. He shortly followed and joined her here.

Alfredo continued to work in restaurants in the city, but in 2015, he became a licensed real estate broker. As a broker, he educated himself on the restaurant industry in New York. Now, with his restaurant background and newly acquired real estate experience, he felt they were ready for their first restaurant.

“We started planning it in October and it opened rather quickly,” he said.

Now after a few months in the community, he feels things are headed in the right direction. Alfredo acknowledged that owning a restaurant can be a challenge, especially in New York City. With high taxes, rent and needing to worry about things 24 hours a day, he has a lot on his plate.

“The restaurant industry is very hard, it’s not easy,” he explained. “When you know what you’re doing you’re not nervous.”

Alfredo explained that what he likes most is being with his clientele. Seeing them enjoy the food and the restaurant makes his 25 years and hard work in the industry worthwhile, he said.

“I feel like I am fulfilling myself,” he commented. “The community is very welcoming. I just keep looking forward. I never look back.”