The three diners at yonder table are conversing in Italian. It’s the best kind of ambiance for an Italian storefront joint by the name of Dino’s. The Riverwest business is a few buildings over from Scardina Specialties, a sausage maker/deli that supplies the Italians for Dino’s Sunday sugo dish.
With the bar stools occupied elbow-to-elbow by regulars (or people who just act like them), Dino’s is thoroughly Riverwest. It opened in 1968 as a bar. Fish fry and Italian food came in the early 1980s. And 47 years after their late grandfather christened the place, Lawrence and Anthony Lococo have given it a lift. After a period when Dino’s was closed, the brothers reopened the bar in 2013, and slowly updated the kitchen and resuscitated the dining room, installing windows and refinishing the floors. Armed with some of the old recipes (their grandma’s sugo, or red sauce, for one), they wheeled out a menu that takes some turns into the old world but lands in the present.
Lawrence, whose domain is the kitchen, starts off the appetizer list with one of the menu’s bests – Italian shrimp and grits ($10). The grilled black tiger shrimp are crusted with minced rosemary and thyme; the “grits” are a heap of creamy fontina polenta, drizzled with roasted red pepper sauce. Things turn from mozzarella marinara-pedestrian to absorbing with the half-pound Riverwest burger, topped with beer-braised onions, cheddar and bacon ($10). (What makes it real engaging is on Thursdays, 5-8 p.m. only, that same juicy patty goes for $5, with fries.) Also memorable: the pan-roasted salmon topped with sun-dried tomato and pine nut butter, and served with sweet corn polenta ($17). And while you’re dining on that Sunday sugo entrée ($13) – spaghetti in a fresh-tasting (however underseasoned) tomato sauce with an Italian sausage link and a homemade meatball – you can really feel the old Dino’s.
On Fridays, the old Dino’s is in full force with the beer-battered (or pan-fried) cod from the family recipe, with coleslaw, homemade tartar sauce and choice of starch. Order pasta with red sauce over fries? When in a bar with Italian heritage, oh yes.
808 E. Chambers St., 414-562-9171.
Hours: Dinner: Wed-Sun; Brunch Sun.
Prices: Entrées $12-$17.
Service: Attentive, quick.