After 18 years in an unassuming building on South Carrollton Avenue, Chef Antonio "Nino" Bongiorno plans to close Cafe Nino (1510 S. Carrollton Ave., 504-865-9200) at the end of May.
"Everyone knows me, and everyone cries," Bongiorno said when word spread about his plans to close. But fans of Nino's pizza, chicken Marsala and red wine, take note: Bongiorno said that after a short break, he plans to seek a new location.
The 70-year-old chef said he needs to return home to Messina, Sicily, where his parents live. For another, he said, the condition of the building he has leased for nearly two decades is now making it more difficult to attract new customers. With a new location — his first choice is the Warehouse District, though he also likes Freret Street — and his current following, "they will be lining up out the door," he says.
Bongiorno made his way from Italy to America in 1970, landing in New York with his first wife. In 1986, he moved to New Orleans, and bought into the Scotto franchise of Italian eateries with a location in the Riverwalk Marketplace. After nine years there, Bongiorno moved to the Carrollton area and the building that has borne his name since.
Bongiorno has built a reputation based on his hearty Italian food and his hospitality. The faded menu offers a heavy plate featuring an entree of veal, fish or chicken and a side of pasta for $9.45, often with a glass of wine on the house.
"I'm an old man, but I still get new energy," Bongiorno said. "A sip of wine will do that."