And why shouldn’t those be on the menu? After all, Nonna’s was born out of several generations of family-owned and -operated food businesses with roots in Chicago; their first restaurant opened on the Windy City's North Side in 1952. Then Dedria Catalano brought her experience and love of Chicago-inspired food to Colorado in 1978, where she opened six Chicago-style delis and a restaurant in various locations around Denver. She sold them all and opened Nonna’s Italian Bistro in 2014, where elegant Italian-style dishes and deli-style street foods come together in one place.
Papa Mike’s pasta fagiole soup is a satisfying and inexpensive way to start your lunch, since you get a large, meal-sized bowl of al dente pasta and beans floating among chunks of bacon in a garlicky broth for $5. Since it's served with a piece of Nonna's melt-in-your-mouth garlic bread, you could easily fill up on this dish alone. Wish I could say the same for the red pepper and lime chicken Gouda soup; Like the pasta fagiole, it comes in a generous portion, but the tiny shreds of chicken were stringy and off-putting, coupled with the awkward mishmash of lime-flavored chicken, roasted red pepper and Gouda that were unfortunately not a symbiotic combination.
The meatball sandwich ($11) is another way to experience Nonna’s Italian flare at lunch pricing. The meatballs are impressively large and dense with a light anise flavor and a thick piece of melty mozzarella on top. The home-made marinara sauce on the side was a bright and flavorful accompaniment and kept the sandwich from seeming a little dry.
While the food was good, the service was lacking. Though I was greeted once I walked past the entryway and into the dining room, the front of the restaurant was a ghost town, as it had been in my previous visits. If you’ve ever visited Nonna’s, you've seen the tempting desserts stocked in the cases up front: giant chocolate cakes, glossy gelato and come-hither cookies. I never understood why they’re not keen on staffing a host or server for the anterior room to sell the tantalizing sweets to interested customers on their way out, as well as to promptly seat those coming in to dine. In fact, there was one person occasionally coming out of the kitchen to seat guests collecting awkwardly at front of the dining room, and only one waitress to serve the entire restaurant during my recent visit. This unfortunately made for a frustrating dining experience, since getting a table was a chore, followed by an undesirably long lunch that lacked prompt meal disbursal, along with several attempts to flag down the waitress for water refills, forgotten side dishes and the tab.
And if you're enticed by the display of cakes, cookies or gelatos in the front room, I’d advise you to pick one out on your way in and plan to order it at the end of your meal, as that will most likely be your only opportunity —and, from the looks of the goods on offer, well worth the effort to plan ahead.
Nonna’s Italian Bistro is located at 11877 East Arapahoe Road in Centennial and is open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday from 4 to 10 p.m. and Sunday from 5 to 9 p.m. Reservations and takeout orders can be called in at 303-790-9999, or visit the restaurant's website for more information and menus.