When you break open one of Sorella’s arancini – a crispy, Sicilian fried rice ball – a creamy filling oozes out. It’s completely satisfying, its flavors strong, its textures so comforting. Simple, you’d say. But making that balance seem so effortless is a part-time job, co-owner and executive chef Kyle Toner says: 10 to 15 hours a week just to make rice balls.
Toner and co-owner Paul Damora hope diners gravitate to their new Southern Italian place in Bay View for frequent, any-night dining. “Not big-night dining. Not dining styled with a tweezers. But like, ‘Let’s get a pizza and a bottle of wine at Sorella.’ Or ‘Let’s get takeout from Sorella,’” says Toner, who worked with Damora at Glass + Griddle. The partners share more than a restaurant. They grew up within 15 miles of each other in New Jersey, though they didn’t know each other, and were raised on some of the same Italian immigrant food. (Rice balls? Definitely.)
They see eye to eye and share the drive to build a success story even as things in the restaurant industry aren’t quite normal.
When I dined here in September, just weeks after Sorella’s opening, it was still warm enough for outdoor dining in the front courtyard. That transitioned to traditional indoor dining in the high-ceilinged room where diners can watch the chef work the wood oven and still stay ensconced in their little dining bubble.
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The menu is appropriately Kyle Toner, a chef who impresses with masterful handling of technique, not flashy ingredients or plating. There is no firm and fast menu jumping-in point, though it makes sense to dive into the fritti and antipasti. Along with the rapturous arancini with their carbonara-inspired filling of pecorino, peas and guanciale (cured pork cheek) ($12), you could build a light, lovely meal around several, two-personsize antipasti: buttery shrimp scampi ($13); roasted cauliflower Amatriciana tossed with sweet cherry tomatoes, pancetta, onion and pecorino ($10); and the terrific roasted broccoli ($9) with dried apricots, chiles and almonds (which became a fan favorite at the late Wolf Peach when Toner was its head chef). Explore the menu more deeply and there are mood-assuagers like the al dente cavatelli with clumps of ricotta and thick, chunky “Monday Sauce,” a ragu of chopped meatballs, sausage and pork ($14) common in old-school Italian-American kitchens.
There’s the off-the-charts-good, crusty and juicy bone-in pork chop with sweet cherry pepper sauce ($26), a half-chicken roasted “Savoy style” with a crackly, browned crust ($23), and wood-oven-roasted pizzas that highlight a chewy, lightly charred crust and minimal toppings like (my fave) smoked mozz, sausage, garlic and bitter broccoli rabe ($15).
As the temps cool, the specials will have a hearty vibe. The partners are also marketing the menu for carryout, expecting that business to grow. And they plan to book the space for daytime events like baby showers – to help ride out the months until, well, the yearned-for “normal.” This is a dishy place that deserves all the “any-night” business it can get.
KINN GUESTHOUSE, 2535 S. KINNICKINNIC AVE, 414-301-6255
HOURS: dinner Wed-Sun
PRICES: pasta $12-$14, secondi $23-$29, pizza $12-$16
THE NAME: It means sister, after Toner’s young daughters