Caffé Italia offers a little bit of Italy
1/7/2012 Chicago Giuseppe Lollino, owner and master roaster of Caffé Italia in Chicago, makes an espresso coffee at the restaurant on Saturday, January 7, 2012. Giuseppe and his son Angelo re-opened the cafe in December of 2011 after being closed down from a fire that destroyed the building in 2009. The father son team roast their own coffee beans on the premises and have a full food menu along with wine and spirits. | michael jarecki ~ for Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 13, 2012 8:49AM
A love for community, tradition and quality is what brought a new restaurant to the Mont Clare neighborhood.
Two years ago Angelo Lollino lost his property on Harlem Avenue to fire and could have moved on, but he and his father, Giuseppe Lollino, chose to rebuild and the end result is Caffé Italia, 2625 N. Harlem Ave.
“We’re about six months into it,” Angelo Lollino said about the new business that borders his hometown. “I grew up in Elmwood Park and I still believe in the community and that’s why I decided to reinvest.”
The restaurant is inviting with tables for lunch or dinner on the left and a fully stocked bar on the right.
But there’s more for those who love a good cup of coffee. Lollino imports coffee beans from locations all over the world, roasting them on the premises.
“We sell it in bulk or by the pound,” he said. “We import coffee beans from South America, Africa Indonesia; we buy from all over.”
Caffé Italia offers expresso and cappuccino drinks.
That’s why Michael Grills and his wife, Svetlana, stop in on a regular basis.
“Mr. Lollino is an excellent coffee roaster,” he said. “He sets the standard for a good Italian coffee.”
“I like his Chai Latte,” Svetlana said. “It’s really good. Starbucks, that’s fake coffee.”
Along with coffee, Lollino said he has a commitment to using quality ingredients in the food he serves as well.
“We served the best possible ingredients, importing all the best products,” he said. “We specialize and we’re not commercialized or Americanized.”
For instance he doesn’t go to the store for bread, he bakes it on site, using fresh imported flour. He makes the pizza dough from scratch and cooks it in a wood fire pizza oven that is right in the restaurant.
“We use fresh mozzarella, no fillers, not processed,” he said.
The gelato they serve is also made from scratch.
Lollino’s father, Giuseppe, 77, was in the restaurant business for 45 years. Giuseppe Lollino was born in Bari, Italy, and came to United States at 19 years old.
Giuseppe Lollino said growing up in Bari they didn’t go to the store to get food.
“I was raised with my family on the farm and we made our own food,” he said. “We planted our own food, grind the wheat and make flour to make bread and all kinds of pasta.”
“We never went to buy bread and pasta,” he said. “We had our own eggs and our own chickens.”
Lollino said his father taught him about the restaurant business from the ground up and has inherited his work ethic, especially when it comes to quality.
Quality does cost, but Angelo Lollino said for customers dining at Caffé Italia or taking it home the prices are reasonable. “For what you’re getting, it’s very fairly priced,” he said.
The atmosphere has a welcoming atmosphere with three wide-screen televisions, vintage Italian posters on the walls combined with a calming atmosphere. During warmer months the windows facing the street open up and there is seating available outside.
Lollino, 40, is no stranger to the restaurant business, making his own mark. Along with Caffé Italia he also owns Massa, an Italian café in Elmwood Park, which he has ran successfully for the past 15 years and another at Navy Pier.
“I love it,” he said. “I’m a fanatic. I wake up every day and I love what I do.”
And he loves working close to the community where he grew up and still lives in.
“We didn’t want to leave the area,” he said. “We wanted to stick with our roots.”
He said those who come in will definitely experience a little bit of Italy where people worked hard, but worked just as hard at enjoying life.
“It (food) is very traditional to life in Italy,” he said. “You come in, you’re going to feel good and you are going to eat well.”