“172 Delancey Street. Apartment 2D,” he rattles off over the phone, emphasizing the “D” of the address of where he grew up. “There was a diverse culture in this neighborhood like nowhere else. Originally it was a Jewish community and then came the invasion of us Puerto Ricans in the ’40s and ’50s like ‘West Side Story.’ It was a crazy time. I would just sit on our fire escape and watch people walk by and all that good stuff.”
His father hails from Cabo Rojo on the southwestern side of Puerto Rico, his mother from San Juan. They met and fell in love in New York City and brought a little bit of their home to that Lower East Side apartment through food.
“My mom was a pretty good cook,” Petrovich remembers. “She made pollo guisado, which is stewed chicken and rice and little bits of carrots and potatoes. The sauce, the sofrito, was the bomb.”
But he didn’t return to that sofrito recipe until years later, after he served in the Marine Corps, started a family, and was working in the music industry. He noticed the Puerto Rican staples he ate as a kid in the Lower East Side were slowly disappearing, like the cuchifritos spot that doled out pastelillos, fried pockets of yucca stuffed with beef. He loved the pernil his father-in-law, Manuel Chevere, made: making little cuts into a pork shoulder; rubbing the sofrito all over it so it’s fragrant with garlic, onions, and peppers; letting the whole thing marinate overnight; then roasting it for eight hours the next day until it “just shreds,” Petrovich remembers. “We got together for parties just because he cooked the pork.”
"“We didn’t close [during the pandemic]. My chef is still with me. We got some PPP money. I got lucky.”
His wife suggested he start his own restaurant. Initially he was hesitant.
“She said, ‘You can name it after my father, Manuel Chevere.’ I said, ‘No one is going to a restaurant called Manuel Chevere,’” he remembers with a laugh. “But people will go to Que Chevere, which means ‘how fantastic.’ I went to LegalZoom and made it.”
In 2018, Que Chevere began as a catering company, mainly for his employer, but he wanted to become a more official operation with a brick-and-mortar shop. He ended up at The Market Line, a food hall in the Lower East Side, and opened for business in November 2019.
“Three months before COVID,” Petrovich says. “We didn’t close. My chef is still with me. We got some PPP money. I got lucky.”
Today, Que Chevere is still going strong, and with a new location in the Financial District. Relying on the recipes of his wife, mother, and in-laws and the expertise of his chef Maro Gjurasic, the restaurant is conjuring the Lower East Side Petrovich grew up with. They make the pernil the same way his father-in-law did and the pastelillos he missed, and they’re also trying their own riffs.
“Yellow rice is usually cooked with pork fat, but we don’t do that. Maro makes it just as good without it,” Petrovich says. “One time, I saw a guy sitting with his wife and staring off into space after eating it. She was like, ‘He is having a moment.’ I get this all the time.”