Tony Mantuano on Bar Toma

A conversation with the Spiaggia chef, who is preparing for the 250-seat restaurant

Chef Tony Mantuano

Tony Mantuano (Spiaggia) wrote the opening menu for Bistro 110 in 1986. Now he and Levy Restaurants have gutted 110 East Pearson Street to make way for the 250-seat BAR TOMA, with a wood-burning oven and wine on tap. “This comes from my heart,” says Mantuano, 57. “I have been wanting to do it for a long time.” So what is it?

Is it a pizzeria or a bar?
This is an Italian bar more than a pizzeria. The pizza bar is one element—you can watch your pizza being made in the wood-burning oven. But in the morning, you you can walk up and get an espresso and a house-baked cornetto. That’s how Italians have breakfast: in bars, standing up.

What else?
There will be a vast display of house-made gelato when you first walk in. You can get gelati to go and walk to the beach [at Oak Street]. There will be a mozzarella bar with several kinds of mozzarella bobbing in water, served with slices of prosciutto, arugula, or vine-ripened tomatoes.

Keep going. Please.
A lot of salads. Pizza salads and bar plates, like arrosticini, little charcoal-grilled skewers like herb-marinated lamb, a specialty of Abruzzo. We have a Roman fritti section, six items like potato chips or baccalà fried in olive oil. Some artisanal Italian chocolates.

You told us to expect the best pizza in Chicago.
It’s something we have not seen yet in Chicago. And not something you would find in Italy. Several special flours, a long fermentation process. It is crisp, light, and airy and dissolves in your mouth. The plates will not come back to the dishwasher with all the crust.

Bistro 110 was riding on tourist-traffic fumes for years.
Business was really good. Any other restaurateur would be happy with the tourism business, but you are looking out on the most historic square in Chicago—and Chicagoans should want to share that with tourists.

 

Photograph: Jeff Kauck

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