Feel the Love at Chicago’s Hottest New Pasta Mecca
Peanut Park breathes new life into historic Little Italy.
The duo behind Peanut Park Trattoria wants to bring an Old World feel back to Chicago’s historic Little Italy. Dave Bonomi, owner of Coalfire Pizza, and Anthony Fiasche, owner of Tempesta Market and Tempesta Artisan Salumi, leased the corner space at 1359 West Taylor Street that formerly housed Davanti Enoteca, and La Vita before that. “Taylor Street needed some fresh air without straying too far from traditional values,” says Bonomi, a longtime resident of the neighborhood. “Gennaro’s, Francesca’s closed, for a time Rosebud and Tuscany were closed, now Taylor street is ready for fresh pasta made by hand, for local, seasonal produce, for Berkshire Duroc pork in a meatball.”
Fiasche and Bonomi are undoubtedly up for the job, armed with both finely honed restaurant skills and the legacy born of years of industry success. Bonomi, who’s dual pizza joints are fueled by regular deliveries of truckloads of coal, explains, “I met Tony six or seven years ago—I took one look at him and said ‘This is a guy who works hard on his sauce.’ ” He was right. Fiasche cooked on the line at his parents’ restaurant, Ristorante Agostino on Harlem Avenue, starting at age 15, then spent two years at Publican Quality Meats before launching ‘Nduja Artisans, the original name of the esteemed salumi company that helped make ‘nduja a household word. He opened Tempesta Market, an offbeat Italian deli known for its meaty, overstuffed sandwiches, in 2017.
Fiasche grew up surrounded by great Italian cuisine. “My dad is from Calabria and my mom is from Naples, and they met here,” he says of his parents, who opened Ristorante Agostino back in 1985. His mother cooked regularly at the restaurant until it was closed temporarily by a fire this past summer. “My mom, Anna, cooks lunch every day at home, and if she’s making a Spaghetti Vongole at home, that’s exactly how they’re going to make it at the restaurant.”
That simple style of Italian home cooking translates directly to the compact, well-edited menu at Peanut Park. Tempesta Salumi is partnered with crunchy Gnocco Fritto, the traditional Bolognese fried dough that accompanies cured meats in that region. In lieu of pizza, slabs of puffy, chewy, herbed housemade Focaccia are served with creamy Ricotta di Bufala, tangy salsa verde, and honey. A Fritto Misto of prawns and calamari gets paired with Calabrian chile aioli. Octopus is stewed tender and served with a spicy tomato-laden arrabiata sauce.
Pastas are rolled and extruded in house for dishes like fresh Ricotta Gnocchi with Pesto, Rigatoni Pomodoro, and Pappardelle Bolognese. Heartier entrees like Whole Branzino and Pork Ribs with pickled peppers sizzle on the grill, and the streamlined menu is supplemented by frequent seasonal additions. “I’m a big stuffed pasta guy,” adds Bonomi—so expect traditional gems like Tortellini filled with mortadella alongside other offerings aimed to push the culinary genre’s boundaries a touch farther.
For dessert? “Mom’s gonna make tiramisu,” says Fiasche. Cannoli from Palermo bakery in Norridge rounds out the selection, while an approachable array of Italian and Italian-influenced wines, beers, spirits keep the familial vibes flowing.
Chef de cuisine Ray Stanis, a Chicago restaurant veteran who started flexing his chops as a sous chef at the revered, now-shuttered Fortunato on Division Street, spent three years with Dean Zanella at 312 Chicago before opening Nellcôte on Randolph Street. Janelle Weber of Blackbird and PQM fame serves as Peanut Park’s general manager.
The restaurant’s name comes from 160-year-old Arrigo Park, located two blocks north of the corner outpost. Locals call it Peanut Park, thanks to a peanut-shaped quarter-mile footpath winding through the serene green space. As Bonomi recalls, “My old landlord told me, ‘Don’t call it Arrigo Park—people will think you are a tourist!’” Bonomi’s immigrant grandfather shopped with his Italian-speaking mother in the neighborhood when he was a little boy, and the restaurateur always has a story or two queued up about the richly historic district.
Peanut Park’s bar and dining room feel cozy and rustic, just like a trattoria should, with weathered dark reclaimed wood floors and vibrant tufted apple green leather banquettes towards the rear. As an homage to Little Italy, a collection of vintage photos of the neighborhood adorn the walls (feel free to ask Bonomi for a tour), and a deconstructed vintage Italian scooter acts as a key design element. A spacious outdoor rooftop deck with a retractable roof will debut next summer.
The neighborhood has always mirrored the buzz of the sports teams that play at nearby United Center, from the Bulls record-breaking six championships in the ‘90s to the Blackhawks’ multiple Stanley Cup runs throughout the 2010s. Says Bonomi, “I’m hoping this will be the spark that ignites a revival of Taylor Street. And I want [Peanut Park Trattoria] to be the neighborhood joint.”