Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Chicago Dining World Tour: Terrific Italian Food in Edison Park Tastes Like Rome Cooking

Nonno Pino's
6718 Northwest Highway, Chicago
(Edison Park)

What I ate: Grilled Calamari, Salad, Bowtie Arrosto, Pork Brasciole, Cannoli, Nonno's Chocolate Delight

According to Yelp, there are over 2,000 listings for "Italian Restaurant" in the Chicagoland area.

I have to imagine many are quite good, and are favorited and frequented by those who live nearby, or even further away.

Yet while I have eaten at a number of savory Italian joints over the years, and have noticed many more, there was nowhere that readily came to mind as a place I should sample and spotlight for my Chicago Dining World Tour.

Although The Noodle in Wilmette is one of my favorite restaurants of any kind--in large part due to pasta made fresh before your eyes--I don't really think of it as expressly Italian. And while Maggiano's has been good to me over the years, including just this week, it's far too hugely popular to merit a detailed dining dissertation.

Fortunately, my friend and frequent dining partner, Ken, had an Italian restaurant to recommend: Nonno Pino's, along the Northwest Highway restaurant row in Edison Park.

With its name translating to "Grandpa Pino's," it was nice to note the comfortable, casual atmosphere included a number of families among the weeknight patrons. The restaurant also seems to be quite popular as a place for groups of women to dine out together. 

(I don't mean this in reference to any of the ladies at Nonno Pino's, but now seems like as good a time as any to reference this cartoon, one of my favorite Once Upun a Time works.)

The decor is attractive, but far from stuffy and the prices at Nonno Pino's are quite reasonable, with a wide selection of items under $15, and almost all under $20 (see the menu here).

Opting for Diet Coke in lieu of wine or a Moretti, after some delectable bread was brought to the table Ken and I opened our dining festivities with Grilled Calamari, sautéed with tomatoes, spinach & a spicy broth. Delizioso!

Thanks in part to strong mentions on Yelp, I was also intrigued by the Pino Puffs appetizer, comprised of shredded zucchini with 3 cheeses formed in a light puffy ball. Something to look forward to next time.

Next, as included with our entrees--which we would split--was family-style salad, for which we wisely chose (from a taste if not cardiology standpoint) to have Creamy Garlic dressing mixed in, not on the side.

This made for one of the tastiest salads in ready recall.

Up front our plan was to share our entrees, but with a recommendation from our waiter, I ordered Bowtie Arrosto, a bowtie pasta with crumbled sausage, peppers, ricotta cheese and marinara.

Though even in splitting it with Ken I couldn't come close to finishing my half-portion, this dish was truly outstanding. I don't go out for pasta all that often, but the Bowtie Arrosto was about as good as I could want.

Unlike this pasta, which our friendly waiter described as the most popular item on Nonno Pino's menu, Ken chose--but again, split with me--a special written on a chalkboard upon the wall, a dish that the waiter said shows up every once in awhile.

This was Pork Brasciole = pork tenderloin rolled with spinach, Fontinella & salami. Served with roasted red pepper cream sauce, garlic mashed potato and spinach. 

Not to sound like a hyperbolic broken record, but again, absolutely fantastic.

Even before taking a bite, of the pork or the pasta, it was pretty clear why Ken was such a fan of Nonno Pino's. And I'm pretty sure, both entrees we ordered were different than those he'd had in the past.

Continuing the spirit of sharing into the dessert portion of the meal, Ken and I divided and devoured a Cannoli--good but not historic--and a slice of Nonno's Chocolate Delight, a 3-layer chocolate fudge cake, coated with walnuts.

This was rich and sensational, even better than the chocolate cake at Portillo's (long a favorite).

Ken had a coffee and I continued getting Diet Coke refills (yes, a bit paradoxically perhaps), and until
our parking meter boxes ran us out of time--a reminder that Edison Park is still Chicago--we sat and savored yet another truly remarkable meal.

Even if Italian may be among the most commonplace cuisines I'll sample as part of my local gastro-ethnic expedition, the wonderful flavors of Nonno Pino's made this excursion one of the most memorable.

Ciao for now! And hopefully again.

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