With the unexpected closing of Fish on 13th Street, Midtown Village matriarchs Marcie Turney and Val Safran found themselves with with a suddenly available restaurant space on their home turf, and snatched it up. And, since their empire already had the cuisines of Mexico, Spain, and the Mediterranean covered, it was almost a no-brainer that Italy was next.
But, instead of going with traditional, authentic Italian food—which has already been covered locally by Marc Vetri, the best Italian chef in the U.S.—they decided to pay homage to a true Philly classic: Italian-American red sauce comfort food. And, the duo has named the place Little Nonna's, which is the Italian word for "grandmother."
"This restaurant was never part of the plan, so we had to find a concept to fit the space," Turney told Eater. "And when Val and I go out to eat, more often than not we get a bottle of wine and head to South Philly to eat at a place like Mr. Martino's or Mr. Joe's Cafe. They've got this vibe, this whole attitude that's all their own. And that's what we want to do at Little Nonna's."
Turney said she talked to South Philly shop purveyors to get the full rundown on what should be part of the Italian-American experience, and that led to her idea of sourcing ingredients directly from Philly legends like Claudio's, Di Bruno Bros., and Fiorella's.
"I asked Sal at Caludio's to tell me all I needed to know if I was going to open a place like this, and it really helped," Turney said. "So, Fiorella's sweet and spicy sausage will be used at Little Nonna's, and Di Bruno Bros. has an amazing selection of olive oils, which we'll use, too. Claudio's gabagool will be on the menu, and Caputo Bros. curd will be the base for our mozzarella. Liscio's is baking our breads. Stuff like that."
Aaron Sheppard, longtime sous chef at Stephen Starr's Alma de Cuba, is going to be the Chef de Cuisine at Little Nonna's. Turney said Sheppard moonlighted at Barbuzzo to make some extra cash on the side, and was responsible for pasta during his time there. "He's really, really talented, and is going to be fantastic in this role for us," Turney said.
Turney said the menu prices will be between $5 and $25, and will be full of classics that we all know very well, like stuffed shells, fresh warm mozzarella, and lots of "gravy"-based dishes. The beverage program will feature Italian wines (most-likely 10 red and 10 white), but they'll also offer some specialty cocktails in pitchers (think sangria) and mixers in mason jars.
The restaurant is quite small, with only 38 seats available, but some are located on a beautiful outdoor patio. Turney said that the timeline hasn't been set in stone yet, but they expect to be open around mid-June. This concept is off-the-beaten path for these two talented ladies, but there's no doubt they'll pull it off with their usual ridiculously high-level of attention to detail, and top-notch execution. We can't wait for this one.
· All Marcie Turney and Val Safran Coverage [~EPHI~]