Two of Chicago's best Italian chefs are getting close to bringing a much-needed gourmet sandwich shop—and a lounge and other throwback Italian food—to River North. Nonnina, the reconcept of Piccolo Sogno Due from chefs Tony Priolo and Chris Macchia (The Florentine), could open as soon as late June, depending on final inspection dates.
Construction is humming along inside the space on Clark Street, and the multi-part restaurant inspired by their grandmothers is taking shape. "We did this as a tribute to our grandmothers," Priolo says. "This is the food our grandmothers used to make." Case in point: the mural that now stands on the wall behind the bar in the new lounge area, which is pictured above, honors Priolo, Macchia and partner Ciro Longobardo's grandmothers.
While the new lounge area, with a central bar that has been moved to the center of what used to be the dining room and is surrounded by booths, is a main difference in the layout, perhaps the biggest difference is the addition of a streetside sandwich shop and retail space that's been carved out of a northern portion of the restaurant. Named Nonnina To Go, Priolo, Macchia and team will serve four core sandwiches served on Gonella bread—an Italian combo, caprese, porchetta, and a breaded steak. Also expect grab-and-go items, Italian pastries, salads, soups, and other retail foodstuffs.
Patrons of the former Piccolo Sogno Due will be surprised by the layout at Nonnina. Where that restaurant was an open space with a bar area to the side, Nonnina is sectioned into multiple rooms with a darker color scheme. A front foyer greets you upon entering, with a door to the right for the sandwich shop, a door to the left for a new dining area, and a short hallway straight ahead for the lounge. The lounge is more of a bar-focused area for the River North crowd, where classic simple Italian cocktails will be served alongside bar snacks and larger plates. The dining room wraps around the south end of the lounge, borders the elevated patio, and has a private dining area through a door to the west.
Chef Chris Macchia will helm the kitchen here, cooking simple old-school Italian entrees "from the time period that our grandmothers cooked," Macchia says. He scoured throwback menus from other restaurants during that time period to inspire his menu. Expect eight or nine shapes of house-made pastas, old-school protein-based entrees such as braciole and pork chops "pepperonata," fried pizza dough, meatballs, and more on the bar snack section, in-house gelato, and pizza from a wood-burning oven during lunch only.
As far as the reasoning behind the changes, Priolo says the location cannibalized business between his restaurants and the new concept gives him and his team an outlet for more casual food and to honor his upbringing. "(Piccolo Sogno Due) was too similar to the original so people would just go to that one," he says. You should be able to eat like an Italian grandmother soon in River North.