Tucked away in a small plaza on Kass Circle, the 50-seat Nina's Cucina doesn't boast a lot of elbow room. That's fine with owner and chef Tony Tomassi. He likes keeping things simple and efficient.
Indeed, when he was considering the character he wanted for his new Italian restaurant, Tomassi thought back to his days working in kitchens of the neighborhood bistros in his native Philadelphia, where diners packed themselves into tiny spaces to savor the chef's from-scratch creations and enjoy the camaraderie.
"Those were places that were fun and affordable," Tomassi said. "And most of them have been around for decades. That tells you something."
Tomassi, 36, admits that when he and his business partner, Eric Vicario, opened their establishment in March, they weren't aiming to create another authentic Italian eatery. Rather, the vision was based on serving lunch and dinner with a Philly flair and an emphasis on the use of fresh ingredients.
Tomassi, who learned his skills from an uncle trained in the culinary arts, said many of his recipes were handed down from family members. His recipe for cannoli ($4) came from his mom. The focaccia he bakes daily for the grilled chicken panini ($6) and tomato bruschetta ($5) smells just like it came from Grandma's oven.
In consideration of the flagging economy, Tomassi and Vicario said they have endeavored to hold down prices as best they can. Daily specials are a good value. Budget-conscious diners might consider trying the 14 Italian entrees offered in a three-course dinner deal (appetizer, entree and dessert) for $12.50 per person or $20 per couple.
Entrees include chicken marsala, penne alla vodka, chicken or eggplant Parmesan, mussels and spaghetti.
Although open only six months, Nina's Cucina has already earned an avid following, making reservations necessary for weekend dining.
Tomassi said a recent expansion included a small bar for those looking to grab a quick bite from the a la carte and tapas menu. Although beer and wine are available, diners can bring their own spirits for a $4 corkage fee.
"Our hope is that we're creating the kind of place that people will want to come to and stay for a while," Tomassi said. "We're looking to be here for a long while."
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or [email protected]