As reported by Chicago magazine, a major fire in 2009 left Caffé Italia’s owners, Giuseppe Lollino and his son Angelo, completely devastated. But the article was marked by optimism, as the 78-year-old Giuseppe wasn’t nearly ready to throw in the towel. He spent three years renovating the 62-seat Italian eatery, updating the space with an open kitchen, modern patio seating, and paper menus to replace the outdated stone ones. The 2011 reopening also revealed to guests a mammoth outdoor facility where the family now blends and roasts their signature arabica coffee beans––a Lollino tradition spanning more then 20 years.
Though Giuseppe has been in the biz for 45 years, it's clear that he's never lost touch with his Old-World aesthetics. In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times subsidiary ElmLeaves, the Italian-born restaurateur confessed, “I was raised with my family on the farm and we made our own food." The team at Caffé Italia follows suit, cooking meals from scratch using authentic ingredients. Dough is made onsite with fresh imported flour, and then wood-fired to form the base for cheesy pizzas or prosciutto-laden paninis. The Italian menu is rounded out with garlic-infused pastas, housemade gnocchi, and steak and chicken dishes sautéed in wine.
Enormous postcards reading Verona, Mera, and Sorrento sprawl the length of Caffé Italia's walls, overlapping like colorful layers of lasagna. Across the dark hardwood floor, another wall displays enormous shelving units with the Caffé Italia's many offerings of wines and spirits. Patrons can complete meals with scoops of housemade gelato on the outdoor patio, where a line of bright red umbrellas provides shelter from the sun’s melt-inducing rays.