It's been awhile since I've seen a report about this neighborhood Italian spot on 85th and Columbus. After a terrific meal at Crispo on Sunday night (http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...), another group decided to further my research into the wonderful world of fried Italian spheres.
Our group of five did not have a reservation, and we were told by the long-time manager that there would be about a ten-minute wait. We settled at the bar with the friendly and efficient bartender and waited longer than anticipated (the back room was empty but I know from past experience it gets uncomfortably hot their during hot and humid days). We finally were seated at a nice table and the bartender came with a free round of drinks -- a kind and unexpected touch.
Our first fried spheres were the arancini, fried rice balls that, if not quite up the standard of Crispo's risotto balls, are downright delicious and disappeared quickly. The vegetarian antipasti plate hit the spot although I think I prefer not getting the big platters -- tiny tastes of many vegetables ends up with the buffet effect on the plate -- juices and sauces running together.
The five of us split the spaghetti and meatballs, cod, and escarole salad with gorgonzola and pancetta. All were satisfying, although I think, like Crispo, you can do better with starters (and some pastas) here.
For dessert, of course we had to go with more fried spheres -- the excellent zeppoles with Amaretto infused honey. Perfect.
Nonna was moderately busy at first but was relatively empty by the time we finished our entrees; but we lingered without any pressure to leave. Everyone in the place was exceedingly pleasant. I wouldn't have traded 25% better food quality for how easy the restaurant made it for five friends who don't get together often to enjoy ourselves, talking in a place where our voices could be heard, and where the entire staff, from manager to bus boy, were smiling.
I'm still recovering from all the fried spheres I consumed this weekend, but it was worth it.