Tony Priolo & Nonnina

Tony Priolo of Piccolo Sogno was a competing chef in the 19'th Annual Championship BBQ in May 2016 in Chicago.  Barbara Revsine wrote about his new restaurant Nonnina. 


Piccolo Sogno partners re-invent their second restaurant

By Barbara Revsine. July 26, 2016

Second restaurants, like second children, present unique challenges. And as Piccolo Sogno partners Tony Priolo and Ciro Longobardo discovered, not all of them can be predicted. Nonnina, their recently opened restaurant in River North, is a case in point.

Cloning Piccolo Sogno was never part of the game plan. But at the same time, letting diners know the new restaurant was connected to the first was a priority. The name, they reasoned, should also signal a difference in format, since the new menu wouldn’t simply be an echo of the first. In the end, “Piccolo Sogno Due” seemed like the logical choice. But as the partners found out, what works in one neighborhood doesn’t always work in another.

Top: Timpano della “Nonnina”. Above: Shrimp “Fra Diavola” made with squid ink spaghetti and Pizza with prosciutto. All photos by Galdones Photography.

“Piccolo Sogno is all about leisurely destination dining,” Priolo explains. “Drop-ins are a rarity. River North is different, especially at lunch time when a lot of people are more interested in carry out, quick dining, and grab-and-go than they are in a lengthy meal. ‘Due’ wasn’t the right format for the neighborhood. Changes had to be made, beginning with the name.”

Priolo and Longobardo jump started the changeover by bringing Chris Macchia and Ricardo Brizuela on board, the first as chef/partner and the second as general manager/partner. The quartet’s search for the right focus eventually led to a discussion about the food their grandmothers made. It was a “eureka” moment.

Left: Veal chop alla Marsala. Right: Asparagus,egg and Parmesan.

“My grandmother lived with us,” Priolo explains. “She did most of the cooking, especially the Sunday dinners when the whole family got together. Those Sunday dinners are what Nonnina is all about. The dishes are updated, but their identity is intact.”

Working together, the two chefs developed lunch and dinner menus that read like a who’s who of regional Italian cuisine. Think of it as elevated comfort food Italian-style, and expect dishes like baked artichokes; shrimp with squid ink pasta; timpano stuffed with egg, sausage, pasta and meatballs; and a knock-out tiramisu.

Left: Blood orange meringue tart. Right: The Neopolitan with house-made spumoni.

With the in-house menus taking shape, the partners addressed the lunch time concerns, eventually opting to create a separate area for carry out and grab-and-go. Called “Nonnina to Go,” it’s available weekdays from 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Going forward, the partners say the two restaurants will operate as separate entities linked by a shared ownership, a plus no one wants to overlook.

Nonnina, 340 N. Clark St. 312.822.0077

Barbara Revsine, a Chicago based food writer, blogs at http:/Chicagonow/pantry-to-plate