Nonno's: An Italian Tradition
At Nonno’s, Stefano LaCommare draws on skills he learned in Sicily and New York to create memorable classic dishes.
Stefano LaCommare and son Lenny present the best of old-school Italian dishes at Nonno’s.
I may have mentioned at some point in our relationship that I’m from The Bronx.
Which, if you’re unaware, is one of the outer boroughs of New York City, famed for Yankee Stadium, open spaces (we’ve got parks, yo), the birthplace of hip-hop and the famed Ogden Nash couplet “The Bronx; No Thonx.” It’s one of the few places that begins with “The,” and the most diverse area in the country. I grew up learning about German delis, Chinese restaurants, Latin bodegas and, of course, pizzerias.
The Bronx model of Italian food was not the refined seafood of Veneto or the risottos of Milan, but a tomato sauce heavy, oven baked pasta abundance made by transplants who came from Sicily during the Southern Italian diaspora of the early 20th century. Lasagna! Ravioli! Anything parmesan!
Stefano LaCommare also grew up with these dishes. His current restaurant, Nonno’s in Altamonte Springs, is a testament to the cooking skills he learned in Sicily and his years in New York in the 1970s.
For a true taste of his art, begin with bruschetta topped with caponata ($8), a slightly vinegary mélange of eggplant, olives, onions and celery that I could eat every day. The calamari ($10) is a plate of quick fried squid, dusted in flour and served with a simple tomato sauce (ask for extra lemon). LaCommare, who comes from a fishing family, points and jokes, “I caught those. Right in the lake by my house. Freshwater calamari.”
Stefano likes to work the room, visiting tables of regular patrons and hawking specials. “Almost out of soup!” he shouts. “No more monkeyfish,” he proclaims about a monkfish special ($19), firm white fish topped with capers, pine nuts, olives and chopped tomato, a sauce a la puttanesca that sets off the sweetness of the catch. “Eighty-six on the monkey!”
Pasta, seafood, veal and chicken populate the menu, all good and all bountiful. Classic eggplant parm ($14) is a massive serving of sliced and breaded eggplant, smothered in tomato sauce and cheese and cooked al forno. The deep umami flavors developed by sauce in a hot oven are like a multi-sensory hug. Even the house wine, red or white frascati at $6 a glass, is pleasant and practically friendly.
Nonno’s Ristorante Italiano
I first wrote about LaCommare and his wife, Marie, back in 2001, when I called their place at the time, Il Pescatore, “Sunday afternoon at Aunt Marie’s.” Their saga stretches from Sorrento’s in the late 1980s to Stefano’s, Il Pescatore, and a different Stefano’s, from which LaCommare “retired” in 2015. His following is such that chances are, as you read this, there are people in the Nonno’s dining room who have been eating his food since ‘89.
Two years ago, Stefano helped his daughter, Antonella, open a pizzeria in Winter Park and he was bitten by the restaurant bug again. Nonno’s (meaning grandfather) was born.
“I can’t stay home for more than two years,” LaCommare says. “I get bored. Even when I don’t have a restaurant, I cook at home.” Lenny, his son and the other chef in the Nonno’s kitchen, says, “It’s like exercise for him, he makes food for all the neighbors.” (“I taught him everything,” Stefano says. “When he’s cooking it’s like I’m cooking.”)
If you are a New Yorker hungering for a taste of home —or Sicilian, or anyone who loves classic Italian-American cooking—Nonno’s should be your next destination. Buon appetito.
A Slice Of Home
LaCommare daughter Antonella didn’t spend her formative years in New York (she competed in the 1993 Miss Florida Teen All American Pageant) but has NYC in her genes. Antonella’s Pizzeria, which she owns with husband Francesco Paradiso and her brother Lenny, turns out pies worthy of Arthur Avenue, nicely layered with toppings and crisp enough to hold with one hand. antonellaspizza.com