A restaurant in Chicago's Uptown neighborhood excels in all of the above, and if you like simple, well-made Italian food in a casual atmosphere, Munno is for you.
EXTRA COURSE: Affogato at Munno
Nicholas Russo never really dreamed of owning his own restaurant. But his Neapolitan heritage and a business partner who suddenly left the picture, forced him to make Munno a reality in Uptown.
"I found food late in life actually, as far as kitchen experience, about two years ago," Russo said.
On any given night, families, couples and dates sit in the casual space, sipping perfect negronis, eating homemade pasta and Neapolitan inspired pizza.
"Being that I am from Neapolitan descent - the name is of Neapolitan descent - I like to focus on the Neapolitan style," he said.
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Gluten is your friend here, from the bread to the pizza to the pasta. Leave your gluten-free relatives at home for this night out. 00 flour is the cornerstone of his pizza. After a night of rest, the supple dough balls are stretched, given a thin sheen of fresh tomato sauce, some basil and Parmesan, plus large hunks of fresh mozzarella. There is no wood-burning oven here, but that doesn't really matter. After two minutes, the pies emerge with the trademark blistered edges and soft, thin middle.
Pastas are also made from scratch. His tiny ravioli is impossibly filled with mortadella, pork, prosciutto and Parmesan; boiled ever-so-briefly, they're tossed in a skillet with butter and sage, and that's really about it. Lasagna is made painstakingly from scratch too. Layer upon layer of spinach pasta sheets, bechamel, ground beef and grated Parmesan. Baked until bubbling, this is definitely a dish for sharing.
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"Even though it definitely is more of a homey, winter dish, I think when it's good, it's good - and people eat it. Our menu has also developed so that everything is shareable," said Russo.
There are obviously Italian restaurants all over the city, but for some reason, in this area - on the cusp of Uptown and Ravenswood - not a lot of places going to the trouble to make their own pizza and pasta from scratch, in-house every day. That's why Munno stands apart.
Munno Pizzeria & Bistro
4656 N. Clark St.