By: Kenny Spahn
When it comes to south Florida dining options, Italian still reigns supreme. No longer just a “specialty ethnic” niche, Italian cuisine is now a well-ingrained, intrinsic part of American life. There seems to be an Italian eatery on every block, spanning the gamut of style, price, and formality. And lying somewhere comfortably between the corner pizza delivery franchise and the venerablefine dining establishments, are the moderately priced, friendly local mom-n-pop shops. Everyone has their own favorite “neighborhood Italian” — and for the folks in the Boca Del Mar area (including me), it’s Trattoria Nonna on S.W. 18th Street. Since it first opened in 2017, Trattoria Nonna has attracted a constant stream of regulars. Many got their first taste with a quick pizza delivery, and then discovered what a uniquely charming, full-service restaurant this hidden gem truly is.
At the helm is Susanna Sciortino Livingston, along with Executive Chef Cosimo (“Cosmo”) Piediscalzi, who learned authentic Italian cooking the real way — in his mama’s Sicilian kitchen, before honing his skills with some of Florida’s top chefs; and her mother Sara Lena (“Nonna,” Italian for grandmother), for whom Trattoria Nonna is named. The setting evokes the warmth and rustic charm of a genuine Italian Trattoria — comfortable and inviting, never pretentious. Note the authentic photos of Italian lifestyle adorning the walls, including some from Chef Cosmo’s own Sicilian childhood. One senses a true famiglia camaraderie here, as Susanna and Sara welcome guests (many of whom they know by name) like personal friends into their home. The genuine hospitality permeates throughout, and is reciprocated by the servers (including Giuseppe, the singing Bartender), and the diners, who each proudly boast that Trattoria Nonna is “our own” special place — just as Nonna intended.
Your Italian adventure begins with a basket of Nonna’s famous fresh-made garlic bread (still hot!), a sure harbinger of good things to come. Be forewarned, it’s irresistible — and addicting! Enjoy a nice vino or cocktail from the full bar as you graze your way through the Antipasti offerings. Grilled Octopus (a nightly special) was notably outstanding — so incredibly tender you could cut it with a fork, bursting with fresh Mediterranean Sea flavor, and perfectly cooked, bearing the telltale char of the grill. You’ll find octopus (polpo) at most upscale Italian ristoranti, but you won’t find any better than Chef Cosmo’s rendition right here. Fresh Burrata was equally enthralling. The heavenly fresh mozzarella is hand-made locally, encompassing a creamy interior that gracefully oozes out like an angelic lava flow. The creamy soft texture and pure wholesome goodness of the fresh Burrata alone is fantastic, and then elevated stratospherically with prosciutto, sundried tomatoes, baby arugula, fresh tomatoes, and an aged balsamic drizzle.
On the menu, Melanzana All Pisana, a towering stack of eggplant, fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, and homemade pesto, is like a marriage of Caprese salad and eggplant parm. Fresh cauliflower is sautéed golden brown and crowned with pine nuts and toasted bread crumbs to form the Cavolore Alla Siciliana, another vegetarian specialty that even avowed carnivores will adore. Other Antipasti ($12 – $14) range from grilled Italian vegetables, to mussels marina, to a spectacular Italian charcuterie & cheese board — and, of course, the obligatory fried calamari for you New Yorkers.
Fresh Salads ($8 – $14) provide a refreshing intermezzo. Beet Carpaccio Salad is a creative vegetarian play on old-school beef carpaccio. Gold and red roasted fresh beets are sliced carpaccio-style thin, then artfully presented atop a bed of mixed greens, adorned with pistachios and goat cheese. Italian fennel joins avocado, goat cheese, and oranges to form the refreshing Sicilian Salad; while the Campagnola is a veritable Italian antipasto spread, with assorted meats, cheeses, veggies, olives, and more. All salads may be augmented with grilled chicken, shrimp, or salmon for a protein-packed, yet light and healthful meal.
In true Italian form, next come le Paste, each creation more enticing than the next. Housemade Gnocchi are made with ricotta cheese (think cheese ravioli filling without the pasta, technically called “Gnudi”), so they’re even lighter and fluer than the usual denser, potato-based gnocchi. The pristine pillowy puffs enjoy a playful swim Napoletana style in homemade Pomodoro sauce, along with fresh mozzarella and basil. I was particularly thrilled to see my favorite pasta dish, Bucatini all’ Amatriciana – a specialty usually found only at more upscale (i.e., expensive) establishments. The rustic yet complex and intensely flavorful Amatriciana sauce magically permeates the bucatini pasta (“hollow spaghetti”) from the inside out, creating an entire gustatory sensation that delights the palate and warms the soul. Homemade Ravioli receive a royal treatment, filled with Porcini mushrooms and bathed in a luxurious pink brandy and mushroom sauce; while the signature Linguini Alla Nonna combines fresh shrimp, grape tomatoes, and linguini in an enticing brandy cream reduction. Other pastalicious possibilities range from delicate Capellini (angel hair pasta) Pomodoro, to hearty Rigatoni Bolognese – pure Italian comfort food sure to evoke heartwarming thoughts of your own nonna’s kitchen. Many vegetarian, vegan, whole wheat, and even gluten-free pasta dishes are offered, so dig in — and remember, “Carbs don’t count when you’re eating Italian!”
While the appetizers and pasta bespeak of Chef Cosmo’s talent, the entrees sing his praises in glorious bravado. Vitello Alla Sorrentina stars three fresh, hand-cut veal tenderloin lets melded with prosciutto, crispy (but not breaded) eggplant, and fresh tomatoes, crowned with fresh mozzarella, all suused in a seductively flavorful sherry wine and tomato sauce (More garlic bread, please?). The resulting taste, contrasting mouthfeel, and complexity of the fork-tender veal, crispy eggplant, savory prosciutto, creamy mozzarella, and umami-laden sherry reduction is a culinary performance that will have your taste buds standing up to applaud. Other meaty options include Veal Marsala, Chicken Scarpariello, and Chicken Gorgonzola, plus nightly specials like our night’s Lamb Chops, Braised Short Ribs, and Pork Chop Campagnola.
Heading seaward, a fresh Branzino was textbook perfect, deftly sautéed to firm-yet-still flaky precision, accentuated with a delicate Piccata treatment of fresh lemon, white wine, and capers. Seafood fans can catch their ll with the Cioppino, a thundering bowl of assorted shellfish and fresh sh lets, all swimming in a light seafood tomato brodetto over linguine. This filling yet surprisingly light ‘seafood stew’ presents a different sensation with each joyous mouthful. Fresh Baccala (codsh) alla Livornese with capers, Kalamata olives, cherry tomatoes, onions, and white wine (yum!); and Salmon Alla Genovese pan-seared to crispy perfection with zucchini pesto, roasted potatoes, and green beans also shine brightly. Shrimp lovers will delight in the many crustaceous offerings, including Scampi, Francese, Oreganata, Parmigiano, and the aforementioned Shrimp & Linguine Alla Nonna. Entrees are generously sized, and include pasta or roasted potatoes — so you won’t leave here hungry!
But no matter how adventurous your palate may be, sometimes there’s just nothing like a good ol’ Eggplant Parmigiana or other familiar favorite — and here again Nonna excels. So head back to Little Italy and visit your old neighborhood friends, like the Marsalas, Piccatas, Parmigianas, and Franceses – each prepared with Chef Cosmo’s same level of expertise, attention to detail, and genuine amore.
Handmade Pizza is yet another must-read chapter in the Nonna story, and worth a visit on its own (or have delivered!). Try the Tuscana, with wild mushrooms, caramelized onions, fresh mozzarella, and arugula; or the mouth-watering Shrimp Scampi pie, sure to elicit drooling from anyone within aroma’s reach. Or be creative, and customize your own pie from a wide array of toppings (over 35!), including all the standards, plus gourmet ingredients like prosciutto, portabellas, shrimp, roasted eggplant, and artichokes. Another cool fact: Gluten-free and Cauliflower crusts are also available — and you can also grab a quick slice for lunch! Also check out the Strombolis, Calzones, and Panini (Italian sandwiches).
Finish with a homemade Tiramisu or Italian Cheesecake and fresh-brewed espresso or a tasty Limoncello, and savor the warm comforting pleasure of Trattoria Nonna — your new favorite neighborhood Italian. Mangia!
6006 SW 18th Street (in the Shoppes at Village Pointe) Boca Raton, FL 561-347-2344 www.trattorianonnaboca.com