Welcome to the Neighborhood

Monica Parpal |
Food And Dining

There are plenty of excellent restaurants in Atlanta. And one of the best things about dining out in the South are the feelings of history, family, and neighborly camaraderie that embrace the culinary world here. With that in mind, we bring you Nino's Cucina Italiana and Nancy G's Neighborhood Café—two of our favorite restaurant mainstays in Atlanta where guests are welcomed like family.

Nino's Cucina Italiana was originally opened in 1968. For the past 31 years, Nino's has been owned and operated by Antonio Noviello. He took ownership in 1982, and has overseen the restaurant operation as owner and chef ever since.

Like many Italian restaurant owners in the country, Noviello hails from the home of olive oil and Parmesan cheese—Italy itself. Born and raised in a town just south of Amalfi, Noviello got his first kitchen experience working in his father's bar. Around age 14, he moved to Monaco and began working in restaurants in Monte Carlo. Once he turned 19, he decided to move to Bermuda for one year with the goal of improving his English. There, he met his future wife, Helen, and—not surprisingly—stayed much longer than he anticipated. Eight years later, he and Helen moved to Georgia, where Noviello worked several restaurant jobs—one of which was at Nino's Cucina Italiana. When the owner decided to sell the restaurant, Noviello was the ideal heir.

“When I had the opportunity to purchase Nino's, I was ready to take on restaurant ownership,” Noviello says. “My goals were always to treat the customers well, and to offer the highest quality food. I've held true to those goals, and they've paid off.”

Although Noviello's goal is to recreate authentic Italian flavors and tastes, it's not always possible so far away from “the boot.” He focuses on importing a few products in particular: pasta, extra virgin olive oil, and Grana Padano. “My Grana Padano comes from Emilia-Romagna—a region in Italy. It's essentially just a younger version of Parmigiana, and it has a delicious flavor. Here at Nino's, we grate the cheese right at the table.”

Some of the most popular dishes at Nino's are Noviello's own recipes, and several are named after his wife and daughters. The Capellini Elena, for example, marries fresh baby spinach and shrimp in a light Parmesan cream sauce over capellini pasta. This dish is named for his wife, Helen.

Nino's is also known for its veal, which Noviello sources fresh and butchers in-house. “We don't buy the pre-cut, frozen stuff. We butcher it, clean it, and prepare it the old-fashioned way. It's a process, but it makes a big difference.” Nino's also brings in fresh whole fish daily, filleting by hand whatever fish is freshest at the market that day. All the stocks, sauces, and dressings are prepared in-house as well.

Nino's is the oldest Italian restaurants in Atlanta, and draws a good deal of celebrity attention. “I remember Paul Newman and his wife coming in. I've seen many, many celebrities over the years,” Noviello says. But to him, the reason for celebrity acclaim is nothing out of the ordinary. “People come for good Italian food,” he says. “That's what matters. Consistency is the most important thing; I want to make each dish as good tomorrow as it is today.”

Nino's has been going strong under Noviello's wing for 30 years, and shows no sign of slowing. These days, Noviello's 25-year-old daughter Alessandra—who has worked at Nino's for seven years—manages the restaurant full-time. For Noviello, Nino's Cucina Italiana is a dream come true—and the future has never looked brighter.

To learn more about Nino's or plan your visit, go to ninosatlanta.com.

 

Nancy G's restaurant opened in March of 2005, but Nancy Goodrich has been in the business “forever.”  “I worked in fast food restaurants in high school, later waiting on tables and getting into restaurant management. It's always been my dream to have my own place.”

Goodrich took over an existing space on Roswell where previous restaurants just couldn't seem to stay in business. “I think I hit on the right concept at the right time,” she says. “I wanted to create a family restaurant, where all people—kids and dogs included—would feel comfortable.”

As Goodrich began building her business, she discovered unforeseen challenges that weighed heavily on her spirit. “Honestly, when I started I remember thinking to myself, 'How hard can it be?'” Goodrich confesses. But she didn't have the kitchen experience, and it took her three years to find the right chef. “Once I found him—Chef Al-Khaliq—he brought consistency and good food to Nancy G's. He saved me,” she says.

Since that turning point in 2008, Nancy G's has only gotten better. With Chef Al-Khaliq at the helm in the kitchen, they've refined the contemporary Southern-style cuisine to focus on popular American dishes like the Shrimp and Grits, Fried Chicken, Macaroni and Cheese, and Fried Tomatoes.

On top of traditional entrées, Nancy G's offers an express dine-in lunch menu (think sandwiches, wraps, and pitas), a kids' menu, and even a “Doggie Dining” menu. “I do a lot of work with dog rescue groups, and since we have such a nice patio with an awning and fans, it made sense to offer food items for dogs as well,” Goodrich says. Canine friends can enjoy items like Doggie Bowls of grilled chicken or rice and carrots, as well as Doggie Cookies and Kristen's Pup Cakes.

Nancy G's also offers a unique Chastain Menu—picnic-style to-go options for guests attending concerts and events at the local Chastain Park Amphitheatre. “Guests receive a tote bag with their first meal. When they bring the bag back, they receive 10-percent off their order.” Chastain meals include items like Fried Chicken, Black Angus Sliders, or Grilled Shrimp with sides and desserts, each priced per couple.

Part of what makes Nancy G's so neighborhood-friendly is the ambience. With cream-colored tablecloths covered with paper—crayon-doodles are encouraged—rustic Southern accents, and a comfy sitting area, the general atmosphere is relaxed and homey. What's more, Nancy G's private dining room is available for reservation without a rental fee, along with a special events menu that includes boxed lunches, banquet style plated dinners, and hors d'oeuvre. “We do lots of bridal showers, baby showers, and birthday parties. We also host local organizations' board meetings. It's important to have a place where people in town can congregate and celebrate special occasions.”

Between the special events space, the kids' room with toys and crayons, and the cozy, down-home Southern feel, Nancy G's has quickly established itself as a neighborhood mainstay. “I think the key is getting to what our guests like and what they need. They come in because our servers recognize them, and because this place feels like home to them. I think we've created an atmosphere where anyone can feel comfortable.”

To learn more about Nancy G's or plan your visit, go to nancygscafe.com.