O is for Old-School Italian

These Madison restaurants dish up the Italian...
O is for Old-School Italian
Café La Bellitalia.

No other country has had a greater impact on American taste than Italy. Even though in recent years we’ve been bombarded by globalization and multiculturalism, the Italian brand remains strong. Currently, modern Italian cooking is in fashion, spawning restaurants like Lombardino’s, Cento and Osteria Papavero. Yet for many, eating Italian still means pasta and red sauce. We have adopted dishes like pizza, spaghetti and meatballs, and lasagna as our own and they have evolved into uniquely American classics.

Italian immigrants were the first to shake up dining habits in Madison. Prior to their arrival, boiled meats and overcooked vegetables dominated the city’s tables. In the first part of the twentieth century, many Italians immigrated to our city’s Greenbush neighborhood, a place that welcomed all newcomers. Roughly seventeen blocks bordered by Regent and Park streets and West Washington and Vilas avenues, it became our “Little Italy” because of the large number of Italian restaurants and food shops. Testaments to its past that remain today are the Greenbush Bar, located in the basement of the Italian Workmen’s Club on Regent Street, and nearby neighbor Fraboni’s Italian Specialties.

Bunky’s Cafe on Atwood once thrived in the heart of the old Bush. The spaghetti house popularized in the 1930s by Vito “Bunky” Capadona and Ninfa Capadona is co-owned today by their granddaughter, Teresa Pullara. Since Paisan‘s inception in 1950, it has moved several times and changed ownership, but it is just as popular as ever. One thing that never changes there is Rose Troia McCormick’s original recipes. Opened in 2013, Nonno‘s proves old-school Italian doesn’t have to be old. It combines tried-and-true favorites prepared with a modern predilection for fresh ingredients. If you just arrived from Mars and want to discover the prototypical red sauce dining experience for the first time, head to Cafe La Bellitalia. Pietro and Josephine Pipitone will treat you like famiglia and feed you until you’re stuffed. That’s Italian!

Click here to read more from “Local Food Guide A to Z.”