The owners of Tutti Giorni are leading the charge to revitalize Norwood's downtown, renovating a restaurant on Livingston Street so extensively that patrons can't even recognize it as a former fast-food restaurant.
Cousins Rocco Sicuranza and Dean Benasillo grew up near each other in Brooklyn and are now raising their families in Harrington Park. Benasillo also owns and operates La Casa Formosa in neighboring Northvale, a popular Italian delicatessen; he purchased a liquor store in Norwood a few years after opening the deli.
But when Benasillo wanted to open a restaurant, he called on his cousin Rocco — who formerly worked on Wall Street — to become a partner in the new venture. They closed the liquor store and moved the liquor license across the street to their new restaurant, Tutti Giorni.
"Our goal is to offer a reasonably priced Italian meal in a warm, family atmosphere," Sicuranza says. "We don't want to be called 'family style' — that's not our atmosphere, but we do offer very big portions, and we are very family-friendly."
In the 1960s, the location was the site of K&M Ranch, a rustic burger joint. In subsequent years, it became a Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell and, most recently, a Popeye's before the cousins purchased the building.
"Originally, our concept was going to be an 'industrial' look with exposed ceilings," says Sicuranza, who said he and his cousin did the demolition themselves. But after they removed the drop ceilings and walls, leaving only a gutted shell, they changed their minds and focused on creating a home-like atmosphere, similar to what they shared every weekend when their families came together for "Sunday gravy."
"It's like you are coming to our house," Sicuranza says.
Now, rough-hewn wood logs adorn the exterior corners of the building, something perhaps more commonly found outside a lodge in Wyoming than at a restaurant in New Jersey. Inside, warm woods soften the entry, bar and main dining room, accenting tasteful wallpapers and table linens. Wine bottles are stored behind a glass wall in the dining room, and the "clam bar style" shellfish offered on the menu are visible to guests on a bed of crushed ice, including shrimp, clams and bluepoint, Pacific and East Coast oysters.
The dinner menu features a variety of dishes, including a veal chop Milanese ($29), zuppa di pesce with shrimp, clams, mussels, calamari and scallops ($28) and gnocchi Bolognese made fresh every day ($17).
But the signature entree items are listed in the "Everyday Is Sunday" section of the dinner menu, which features the family's own recipes. "Sunday Sauce" features pork bracciole, homemade meatballs and "Arthur Avenue" sausage simmered in a classic marinara sauce and served over mezzi rigatoni ($16). Other traditional entrees include lasagna, eggplant parmigiana, spaghetti with meatballs and cheese ravioli.
"When someone asks me what's good, I say, 'What are you in the mood for?' " Sicuranza says.
Both lunch and dinner menus also include several signature burgers "because we felt there was a calling for them," Sicuranza says. The Tutti Giorni burger is topped with crisp pancetta, arugula, Asiago cheese and caramelized onions on a toasted brioche bun ($13).
Head chefs Tony Rosas and Jose Telles are joined by a veteran pizza maker, Florindo Florio, who mans the wood-burning brick oven for pizzas, calzones and rolls.
Since Tutti Giorni opened, it has attracted a crowd drawn to the daily lunch special offered Monday to Friday. For $8.95 plus tax and gratuity, it includes a mesclun salad, soup or pasta, and three entree choices. The lunch special is priced low, Sicuranza says, "because we want people to taste our food and come back."
Even the restaurant's name, Tutti Giorni — which means "every day" in Italian — represents "the concept that we want you to eat here every day," he says. "We want you to feel like you are in our home."
Starters is a first look at recently opened restaurants. It is meant to be a descriptive glimpse, not a critical review.
530 Livingston St., Norwood, 201-660-7202.
Cuisine: "Everyday Italian"; entrées $8 to $32.
Days/hours: Lunch: 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday; dinner: 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 5 to 11 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 4 to 9 p.m. Sunday.
Credit cards: All major.
Wine/liquor: Full bar.
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