Nonno’s Is a Gen X-Millennial Nostalgic Pizza Wonderland

Nonno’s Family Pizza Tavern specializes in Chicago-based pizzas baked with a crisp cracker-like crust. Photo by Vivian Leba.

Anyone born between the 1980s and early ’90s will step into Nonno’s Family Pizza Tavern at 1613 Richmond and feel a sense of familiarity. The space, designed by local firm Gin Design Group, welcomes guests with a Pac-Man shaped host stand and features booths with wood paneling to evoke memories of a time past, a pre-smartphone era when pizza was somehow associated with giant crime-fighting turtles. Arcade games flank one wall, 8-bit sprites dot the menu, and there’s even vintage, stained-glass Pizza Hut pendant lamps hanging over some of the tables. The moment we were seated, I felt like I was going to get a personal pan pizza as a reward for reading five books.

Guests enjoying a Wise Guy from Nonno’s Family Pizza Tavern. Photo by Vivian Leba.
Guests enjoying a Wise Guy from Nonno’s Family Pizza Tavern. Photo by Vivian Leba.

Pizza is the name of the game at Nonno’s — specifically, Chicago tavern pizzas. It’s a style that’s experiencing a renewed popularity across the nation. The crust of this style is cracker-thin and gives a satisfying crunch – a stark deviation from the better-known Chicago pizza, a heavy and robust slice of deep dish. 

The Meat Head at Nonno’s is a classic meat-lover’s pizza topped with housemade sauce, cheese, capicola, pepperoni and sausage, but the Wise Guy steals the show. The combination of Nonno’s sauce, cheese and sausage benefits from a zesty giardiniera. The pickled vegetables add just the right flash of acidity to complement the spiced sausage and gooey cheese, leveling up what is already an excellent sausage pizza.

Those still wanting some heft to their pizza can order Grandma’s Pizza by the slice, where the base is a thick square of magnificently spongy focaccia with a crisp, baked crust. We ordered the Broccoli Ricotta slice, and the char on the broccoli coaxed out all the savory flavors, pairing well with the mild, creamy ricotta. The sizeable squares felt more like a small loaf of bread; one that can easily be shared with a friend.

Co-owner Martin Stayer pulling apart a Mozz Stick at Nonno’s Family Pizza Tavern. Photo by Vivian Leba.
Co-owner Martin Stayer pulling apart a Mozz Stick at Nonno’s Family Pizza Tavern. Photo by Vivian Leba.

The sides and appetizers also hold their weight in the game. The crispy potatoes tossed in herb butter and Parmesan cheese are served with creamy garlic dip, and the well-seasoned, crisp exterior gives way to a french fry-fluffy interior. They’re essentially well-made potato wedges, and how can you argue with a good bowl of hot, fried potatoes to snack on? The Mozz Sticks likewise present an upgraded edition of the classic kids’ (and big kids’) menu staple. The cheese is of higher quality than your average “bar ‘n grill” mozzarella stick, resulting in a stretchy cheese pull that feels like it could go on for miles before having to cut it loose, lest you find yourself halfway across the room with a length of cheese in your hand. It can make pulling one open a fun, two-person endeavor, maybe for creating your own “Lady and the Tramp” moment. This is a place for pizza and arcade games; table manners are loosely interpreted.

Guests seated at the bar at Nonno’s Family Pizza Tavern. Photo by Vivian Leba.
Guests seated at the bar at Nonno’s Family Pizza Tavern. Photo by Vivian Leba.

It’s not all child’s play at Nonno’s, as there’s a bar program with an extensive wine list and a balanced variety of classic cocktails on tap. The frozen Negroni is a favorite of mine, which is an anomaly. I usually steer away from frozen drinks due to many being too sweet or having a consistency that results in a pile of syrup at the bottom of the glass. Nonno’s frozen Negroni works beautifully, allowing the extra sweetness to offset the hallmark bitterness and brightening Campari’s inherent citrusy notes. It turned the bold-and-bitter classic cocktail into one that is bright and refreshing. It’s a great introduction to a Negroni if one has never tried the drink before and may be put off by its bitterness in its classic form. There’s also a notably cheeky addition buried in the spirits list: shots of Malört for a dollar. The polarizing liqueur may be unpalatable to most, but it comes out in an adorable shot glass on a toy car (“shotwheels,” if you will). The fun of rolling your shot glass around on your table before braving through the taste of Malört is worth the dollar in itself.

Wood-paneled booths and arcade games at Nonno’s Family Pizza Tavern. Photo by Vivian Leba.
Wood-paneled booths and arcade games at Nonno’s Family Pizza Tavern. Photo by Vivian Leba.

While I’m enjoying the food and drink at Nonno’s, the playlist puts me solidly back into my middle and high school days, as it includes all the ’90s R&B hits I used to listen to on the radio (in between ads for local car dealerships). That’s where I have to admit my inherent heavy affinity towards Nonno’s, because I’m exactly the type of person for whom it was built. Nonno’s isn’t trying to produce anything groundbreaking, instead sticking with well-made renditions of classic pizza parlor favorites. Nonno’s is a place for all of us grown-up (and not-so-grown-up) Gen Xers and millennials to break away from our adult lives for a moment and go back to a time when we’d blow into Nintendo cartridges to get them working again, when Saturday mornings were for cartoons and movie nights at home meant a trip to Blockbuster. After a meal at Nonno’s, I felt like I should’ve been calling up my friends to play Mario Kart 64. 

While Nonno’s hasn’t announced an official opening date, guests are welcome to drop by as it continues to work through its soft opening phase.

Nonno’s will be open Tuesday through Sunday from 4 p.m. to midnight.

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