Little Nana’s Italian Kitchen
Neighbourhood: West End
Address: 812 Notre Dame Ave
We are obsessed with Italian food. This culturally diverse city shows its affection, arguably favouritism, towards plates of pasta sauced in tomatoes, cream and cheese. Despite the fact we are spoiled for choice in this city, when Little Nana’s Italian Kitchen boldly opened in December, 2019, we were elated. A couple of passionate food lovers with Calabrian ancestry, generous hearts and a big helping of hospitality to share – what’s not to love? Classic southern Italian style dishes and Nana’s recipes from the old country may not be such a secret formula, but it’s a winning one.
The west end location on Notre Dame integrates with the mural-rich neighbourhood vibe, its artsy painted exterior hinting to a spirit of fun. Inside, rich dark wood wrapping around every dining booth, and ambient lighting add cozy elegance to the space. Chef Dann Ignacio brings some NYC pedigree to pair with the knowledge of tradition of the Calabrian owners.
Calabrian food is one of Italy’s simplest regional cuisines, yet its flavours are strong. Caciocavello cheese, a signature of the area, appears on the cheese charcuterie, along with spicy sausages. Burrata is punctuated with vibrant fresh pesto, grape tomatoes and syrupy balsamic glaze, a full-bodied mix of herbaceous sweet and sour notes on the creamy cheese ball.
Simple recipes are not to be underestimated. Premium ingredients are prevalent throughout the menu, and Parmigiano Reggiano, pecorino and buffalo mozzarella make their delightful statement on salads, pizza and pastas. Shavings of Parm elevate classic Caesar salad at the top of a meal.
On special occasions, a wheel of Pecorino Romano is brought in for tableside preparations of cacio e pepe, a rare treat showcasing how spaghetti, pepper and hot water result in an inexplicable creamy, fiery masterpiece.
Pasta lovers are well taken care of. Popular favourites like spaghetti and housemade meatballs are sure bets. Tender ground beef and pork swimming in sweet marinara reveal Nana’s tutelage over chef Dann. Osso buco on tagliatelle noodles delivers fall off the bone tender beef ribs in mushroom laced jus. Crème fraîche cuts the unctuous dish with a refreshing creamy sour finish.
Generosity is notable at Little Nana’s. The problem with Italian food is you are hungry again two days later, states the bill at the end of the meal. Despite the leftovers you will undoubtedly take home, don’t pass on a sweet ending. A satisfying espresso and a crisp cannoli proves that when it comes to rustic Italian fare, there’s no need to mess with perfection.