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Get a Sneak Peek at Bar Toma, Set to Open Nov. 29

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The centerpiece -- a new wood-burning oven that will cook pizzas in two minutes
The centerpiece -- a new wood-burning oven that will cook pizzas in two minutes

"Every town in Italy, no matter the size, has that central meeting point for espresso and cornetti, wine and lunch and pizza at dinner," said Tony Mantuano. He wasn't fantasizing about where he'd like to be, but rather talking about why he wanted to open Bar Toma, his new casual 250-seat Italian eatery in the former Bistro 110 space that will focus on great espresso, gelato, pizza, mozzarella, wine and more set to open on Nov. 29.

When it opens later this month diners will hardly recognize the interior following the complete makeover that now showcases white marble-topped bars, exposed copper pipes, raw concrete and more to give it that rustic feeling that really gets Mantuano excited.

Walking in, you're first greeted by the espresso bar, where you'll stand and sip your morning coffee and fresh-made pastries by Spiaggia pastry chef Lupe Tiscareno. She'll make various treats like brioche and the aforementioned cornetti (essentially an Italian croissant, "but better," Mantuano said), filled with different ingredients like Nutella or ricotta and honey. The station, manned by barista Steve Paluck, will have a special Illy espresso machine, the only one of its kind in the U.S. "It's the anti-Starbucks," Mantuano said. "You won't have green aprons or hear Ray LaMontagne playing."

That "anti-Starbucks" attitude permeates the entire space from the gelato bar with 18 rotating flavors and the 15-seat pizza bar with vintage-looking red-vinyl topped stools and the showcase 750-degree Mugnani Valeriani brick pizza that will cook a pizza in two minutes, according to Mantuano. He stressed that it won't be Neapolitan-style pizza, rather a delicious and puffy pizza with dough that has a 48-hour fermentation process.

Everything here will be freshly made with various pizzas like the Mantuano (rapini, guanciale, mozzarella and chiles); Smoke & Cure (Vermont artisan pepperoni, passato di Pomodoro, mozzarella di bufala and smoked garlic); the Sicilian (pecorino Pepato cheese, fennel, raisins, Becker Lane sausage and sesame seeds) and the Lorenzo (mozzarella, fresh tomato and basil and crispy pancetta).

The restaurant is divided up into various sections—a mozzarella bar, a 36-seat dining area facing glass garage doors that open in the warmer months onto a sidewalk patio, a 60-seat area with communal dining and more intimate tables that can be curtained off for private parties. An open kitchen, overseen by chef di cucina Erik Freeberg, will send out "Roman-style fritti" bar plates like seared Toma cheese with onion crostino and lemon marmalata; prosciutto-wrapped sweetbreads, calamari and blue potato chips with orange sea salt.

The eastern side of the restaurant has a copper-topped bar with 21 seats and six taps—three for beer (one seems to be a collaboration with Goose Island), two for wine and one for Seedling Farms hard cider. Cathy Mantuano's wine list features 50-plus Italian bottles and glasses that will fall in the $7 to $12 range.

The bar area also has 28 four-tops, a 10-seat communal table and nine booths that seem like private grottoes with large acrylic dome lights hanging overhead and individual Jeff Kauck photography depicting disparate scenes (city, landscape, table settings, street scapes) from throughout Rome and Molise in Italy. And where people who were seated in this room at Bistro 110 may have felt isolated, the wall behind the bar has been cut out to allow diners to see all the way through to the pizza bar and beyond. Because who wants to feel left out?
· Bistro 110 to Close After 25 Years; New Tony Mantuano Project Taking its Place [~EChi~]

Bar Toma

110 E Pearson Street, Chicago, IL 312 266 3110