Opening March 13 in the center of Monroe, Louisiana, Nonna (Italian for grandmother), chef Cory Bahr’s second hometown restaurant, brings heart to every meal.
It is a tribute not just to his grandmother and grandfather, who raised him in Monroe and taught him the soulfulness of cooking, but to all grandmothers. And these extraordinary and inspirational ancestors receive a nod right at the entrance in a hilarious series of larger-than-life "Blue Haired Angels" portraits of local grandmas that set the tone for spirited good times.
For Bahr, a battle-hardened “Chopped!” champion, Italian sensibilities couldn’t be more natural. Absorbing his grandparents' passion for food as a way of life, his approach to cooking is closely tied to the bounty of the earth, working in the garden, canning and pickling, hunting and fishing, and foraging, with the same rustic simplicity that is the culinary norm of the Italian countryside.
At Restaurant Cotton, his first establishment, Bahr's own confident creativity stamps standards of the southern country repertoire with his personal signature. At Nonna, set in a handsome old house with vintage charm in the heart of Monroe's Garden District, that signature has a decidedly Italian accent.
Here, Bahr serves up Neapolitan pizzas, housemade pastas, fresh local vegetables, exquisite cheeses, and meats both braised and cured, complemented by basic Italian cocktails and a predominantly Italian wine list. A robust selection of cold brews from Italy, Louisiana, and Mississippi are on hand to quench thirst and refresh the palate.
At first glance, the menu is all Italian, but closer study reveals that Bahr has stuck closer to home to source ingredients. Making a classic Tuscan sausage soup with collard greens instead of kale, he shows his homegrown common sense, learned at the knee of his own nonna.
“We don’t grow a lot of kale around here,” he says, “but we do love our collards. And we grow soybeans like crazy, so why not use them? Drawing from our own local agricultural sources means fresher food, and that means better, period.”
Bahr’s Panéed Veal with Lemon, Sage, and Mascarpone over Soybean and Potato Hash fully celebrates those little brown beans. A star of the dessert menu, an individual Olive Oil Cake with Grapes, Limoncello Cream, and Vanilla Gelato, is served in a very Southern diminutive cast iron pan. “Think fruity awesome cornbread,” he says.
Bahr wants Nonna to feel like a comfortable trattoria, where guests can hang out and relax for long periods of time, the way they would at grandma's. Nonna welcomes up to 70 inside and 30 in the courtyard, furnished in cheery blue-striped Mediterranean beach cabanas facing a central fountain. A bocce court on the manicured lawn encourages mingling, competition, and digestion between courses. Most of Nonna’s menu items are made with tasting and passing around the table in mind. The restaurant's concept is about feeling at home, kicking back, enjoying, and savoring.
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