True authentic Italian cuisine can be a hard concept to nail. Some restaurants try to make a dish that tastes like it was flown from Italy while others try to jazz it up and make it too modern. Nonna’s Bistro lands comfortably in the middle.
“My passion has always been Italian food. I learned from my mom and dad and they learned from their mom and dad. So, our thing is old-world classic recipes with a modern twist,” head chef and owner of Nonna’s Bistro, Franco Bavaro says. “In our house, it was never a ‘Go sit down and be quiet,’ everyone pitched in to make the food, so I’ve been cooking since I was a boy.”
Nonna’s Bistro opened quietly this past June on Jasper Ave and 100 St. My co-diner and I chose for a quiet Wednesday afternoon lunch. As I walked in, I immediately noticed the Italian flag colours subtly sprinkled on the chairs, countertops, and menu borders throughout the establishment. Pictures of Italian landmarks like the Leaning Tower of Pisa hang against the walls while recorded games of soccer play on the TV screens.
Simply put, Nonna’s feels like a North American establishment taking inspiration from Italy, and it works. None of the decor comes off as tacky and the staff also keep up with the theme by dressing in green, white, or red.
Nonna’s menu consists of various pastas, salads, zuppas (soups), and eight individual paninis which are known as the bistro’s most delectable attractions. A new panini is created every two weeks, with sauces and pasta rotating every week.
Co-diner and I decided we each wanted our own panini, and split a helping of rigatoni pasta bathed in an alfredo and classic Italian meat sauce. On the side, we also had a serving of the cheese tortellini soup. Both were combos that came to $12.95 each.
I went for the The Godfather, which is made up of hot genoa salami, soppressata calabrese, mortedella, provolone and cheddar cheese, onion, roasted red pepper and a signature Nonna’s spicy Pomodoro sauce.
“The Godfather is our biggest selling sandwich,” Bavaro tells me.
After my first few bites, I understood why. The panini has a nice crunch to it and the combination of meats, cheese, and the pomodoro compliment each other. Each bite is an subtle explosion of flavour. I found myself devouring the panini to the bread while only offering co-diner a few bites.
She went for IL Bruto, The Brute, which has genoa salami, smoked ham, pepperoni, cheddar cheese, green peppers, onion, tomato, and Nonna’s meat sauce.
“Bruto means ugly in Italian, but that doesn’t suite you,” Bavaro jokingly tells co-diner.
After having a few bites we both enjoyed The Brute, but agreed nothing could top The Godfather.
The rigatoni was tasty, and the unique combination of alfredo and meat sauce paired quite nicely. The cheese tortellini soup was a bit watery, but the subtle hints of seasoning made up for it.
“It’s all about seasoning,” Bavaro says. “You don’t have to use too much, but you have to season the sauce so if you run out of meat and just bite the bread it still tastes amazing.”
Bavaro has been around the restaurant industry for many years, having helped a few restaurants get their feet off the ground.
“I helped put the Tasty Tomato on the map 25 years ago. I worked at Buon Appetito. I managed the very first Sorrento’s,” he says. “I’ve had a long history with Edmonton’s sports teams. Most of the coaching staff and the Oilers would know me by face. I’ve served a lot of these guys at different places. So yeah, I’ve been around.”
Along with his assistant general manager Kabange Buddy Mwanakitenge, Bavaro has been spreading the word of Nonna’s as much as possible.
“Back in the ‘80s, you could open up a place with an open sign and people would come in,” he says. “Now you need to get out there and market like crazy.”
Still, Nonna’s seems to be doing quite well, offering a relaxed atmosphere and a unique take on Italian food. It’s a family bistro, and Bavaro along with his staff will do everything in their power to make sure you feel right at home.
10061 Jasper Ave.