Neighbourhood: Fort Garry
Address: 2077 Pembina Hwy
Nestled in a South Winnipeg strip-mall, Nicolino’s glimmers like a beacon among a row of fast-food chains. Owner Nick Zifarelli has created a hip neighbourhood hangout; the weekly Wednesday jazz nights, hosted in the adjacent Orbit Room lounge, are often standing room only. Over in the dining room, Nicolino’s executes exceptional Italian classics while offering new flavour combinations that excite.
Decorated tastefully in modern neutrals, Nicolino’s has a comfortable, relaxing vibe that reflects the restaurant’s contemporary-meets-old country menu.
It’s hard to choose from the tempting array of appetizers, but we were won over by delectable prawns puttanesca. Plump, succulent prawns are slathered in a briny sauce of capers, anchovies and black olives, punctuated with sprigs of fragrant dill. You’ll want to mop up every last bite with doughy, chewy breadsticks, served piping hot from the oven. Fresh, fork-friendly croutons add substance to the tangy, citrus-imbued Caesar salad that accompanies entrées.
The chicken parmigiana is juicy on the inside and delicately crispy on the outside. Simple but flavourful sides — penne tossed in oil and garlic and a bed of lightly seasoned sautéed veggies — round out a robust meal straight from mama’s kitchen.
The menu includes a whopping 14 pasta entrées, ranging from tried-and-true Italian signatures such as cannelloni and spaghetti carbonara to global nods like the Thai green curry. We opted for the salsicce al arabiatta. Penne cooked perfectly al dente is layered with rich, family-recipe tomato sauce, crumbly bites of housemade hot Italian sausage and plenty of pungent garlic. Fresh, aromatic basil completes this Mediterranean sensation.
Pizzas, in an array of taste bud-tantalizing combinations like spicy eggplant, pork sausage, sweet pineapple and piquant jalapeño, are another famed fixture of Nicolino’s menu and great for sharing at lunch.
If you save room for dessert, you can’t go wrong with the indulgent tiramisu. Another classic worth craving is the crème brulée. The layer of crystalline burnt sugar is so thick it requires a few taps, but your work will be rewarded by creamy bliss.