One of Chicago's best family-run restaurants died last weekend.
Fiorentino's Cucina Italiana, a beautiful neighborhood Italian gem run by the mother-and-son duo Frances and Steven Fiorentino, served up heartfelt southern Italian food and true family ambience for more than nine years on the corner of Ashland and George in Lakeview before closing its doors for good after service on Saturday night. Matriarch Frances Fiorentino says the decision stems from personal reasons.
"As much as I loved the restaurant, I missed spending time at home with my family," she says. "We had great, great years here and we always wanted to go out on a high note."
Opened on June 7, 2006, one day after 6/6/06, the restaurant's army of loyal regulars knew Fiorentino's for its pastas, such as the house special fettuccine maribella (squid ink fettuccine, cream sauce, sun-dried tomatoes, asparagus, shrimp and scallops), pillowy ricotta-stuffed gnocchi and other southern Italian specialties, and its deep wine list. Its warm, inviting, family atmosphere, a dying breed in the current Chicago restaurant scene, would make Olive Garden blush.
"I always used to see in people's faces that they were at ease (at Fiorentino's)," Fiorentino says. "It was different here—you could relax."
The place really came alive in the warm months when the picturesque three-season rear patio and garden, where candlelit tables sat beside herb plants grown for the kitchen under strings of twinkling Christmas lights, created an experience reminiscent of a scene straight out of a Dean Martin love song or "Lady and the Tramp."
Much of the staff worked there the majority of the restaurant's existence, and Fiorentino says she found most of them jobs at other restaurants after breaking the sad news to them. The family, which included four brothers total, would eat dinner nightly at a family table behind the host stand.
The food, atmosphere, and personality got Fiorentino's featured in a myriad of local outlets throughout the years, including "Check, Please!" and "Chicago's Best," all at a drive-by location on Ashland Avenue. "We made the most of that little corner," Fiorentino says. There's no word yet what will be coming to that corner next.