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New Granger restaurant features authentic Italian cuisine, family recipes

At Simonini Gourmet Restaurant & Deli, “la famiglia e tutto” — family is everything.

It takes only a glance around the dining area to understand the familial influence within Granger’s newest Italian eatery.

Located at 226 W. Cleveland Road in the space formerly occupied by Victorian Pantry, Simonini opens its doors to the public for the first time Monday, Feb. 2.

Owners Tamara and Joe Vasta have modeled the Italian restaurant and deli on Old World traditions carried across the Atlantic to Chicago by Joe’s great-grandfather.

“Most of the recipes that we’re doing here, especially the ravioli, originated from that restaurant in Chicago in the early 1900s,” said executive chef Joe as he motioned to the sidewall mural of his relative’s Halsted Street storefront.

The round, rippled ravioli is cut using a die replica similar to the one used by Joe Simonini and his brother in 1908. It’s one of six handmade pastas that appear in dishes on the menu. The restaurant also features a retail counter which offers patrons the option to purchase pasta by the pound.

If you go:
Simonini Gourmet

226 W. Cleveland Road

Hours: 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday – Thursday; 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday; closed Sunday.

Text SIMONINI to 36000 and join the Simonini VIP Club. Promotional specials and exclusive offers are sent to members via text alerts. 

A variety of pastries sit atop two refrigerated deli cases containing imported meat and cheese, along with Simonini’s made-from-scratch sauces and dressings — all of which are available to-go.

At breakfast, the Vastas brew Lavazza, a historic staple of Italy’s coffee market, to accompany menu items like eggs benedict and Mediterranean frittata. Guests will receive a café punch card with coffee drinks that, once full, may be redeemed for a free beverage.

The couple also plans to display a wine selection in mounted white enamel shadow boxes. A Wood Stone Fire Deck oven churns out 10-inch and 15-inch pizza pies.

“We wanted to marry the Old World Italian cuisine that I grew up with in this more modern setting,” said Joe.

Tamara’s cousin, Cheryl Wasmer of Phisz Design, Inc., and her husband Ray are responsible for the industrial-chic sheen of the restaurant’s interior.

“When we first knew we were going to move forward with this project, I said to Joe, ‘we have to get Ray and Cheryl involved – they’re our family,” recalled Tamara.

Today’s grand opening marks one year, almost to the date, since renovation of the space began.

“In collaboration with us, this is Cheryl’s creation,” Joe said. “They have been, and still are, instrumental in this whole project.”

Vintage filaments hang from 100-year-old doors attached to the ceiling, emitting a deep, low burn that greets the natural light filtering through multiple stained glass windows. The glass was salvaged from a razed building in the Motor City and repurposed as restaurant décor.

“We feel very strongly about giving our guests an authentic Italian experience here,” Tamara said.

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