On my continuing quest to find good Italian eateries in the Harwood Heights area on the west side of Chicago, I went to a place that I'd had been by a handful of times - Cucina Biagio. The building is styled after an Italian villa and it's pretty tough to ignore as you drive down Lawrence Avenue. Here's the story behind Cecina Biagio and my meal that I had that evening.
Biagio Cirrincione grew up in Altavilla Milicia, a small town along the northern coast of Italy. One by one, members of his large family moved to the United States in the early 60's. By 1966, Biagio Cirrincione was the only member of his family not to be in the U.S. Along with his wife Giuseppina (Josephine) and their children, the Cirrincione's moved to Chicago in 1966 to be near other relatives. But hedging their bets, Cirrincione kept the family house and business in Sicily in case America didn't work out for them.
Biagio Cirrincione worked in a number of restaurants in the Chicago area learning the business and imparting his knowledge of blending ingredients for the best tasting Italian specialties. After six years, the Cirrincione family held a meeting and they voted to stay in the United States. Biagio Cirricione went back to Sicily to sell the family home and business, coming back to America shortly afterward to continue to work in the restaurant business.
In 1977, Biagio Cirrincione bought a Nancy's Pizza franchise and learned the way of making a stuffed pizza. A second Nancy's owned by the Cirrincione's opened in 1979. A dispute with Nancy's owner Rocco Palese led to the Cirrincione's breaking away from the Nancy's Pizza franchises and opening his own stuffed pizza restaurant called Biagio's. Biagio's eventually transformed into Suparossa and grew into three locations around the Chicagoland area. Today, under the Suparossa Hospitality Group, the Cirrincione family operates nine restaurants including Pete's Pizza, Legno and Cucina Biagio along with two banquet facilities.
Cucina Biagio is located on Lawrence Ave. just west of Harlem in the heart of the Italian neighborhood of Harwood Heights. (see map) It was around 6:30 when I pulled into the parking lot just to the west of the building. I went inside and was met by Boris who would eventually be my server. He showed me to a booth in the ornate dining room. It was still pretty early so only a handful of diners were in the restaurant. I ordered up a beer to have while I looked through the menu.
Traditional southern Italian and Sicilian specialties made up the bulk of the menu at Cucina Biagio. Pasta dishes, veal and chicken entrees, as well as seafood pasta offerings were available at Cucina Biagio. I was in the mood for something different that evening other than just pasta and meatballs in a meat sauce.
Coming out before the main entree was a small loaf of fresh baked bread that came with marinated roasted garlic, whole black olives and parmesan cheese. I smashed some of the roasted garlic on the bread slices and sprinkled some parmesan on top. It was absolutely killer in taste. I also got a house salad with fresh greens, sliced onions and cucumbers with tomato wedges, olives and julienne carrots topped with a house Italian dressing. This was a great start to the meal. By that time, I had finished my beer and had ordered a glass of the La Flor malbec wine from the Pulenta Estate Winery in Argentina to have with my dinner.
For dinner that evening, I decided to go with the chicken parmigiana. I had been looking at the veal marsala for a moment, but Boris - with a thick Eastern European accent - told me that their chicken parm was outstanding. It was a breaded chicken breast, pan-fried and then baked with a marinara sauce and a slathering of fresh mozzarella cheese across the top. The chicken parm sat on a bed of angel hair pasta.
My server was right - the chicken parm was outstanding. The breast was thick, but tender and juicy. The marinara was sweet and tangy, while the mozzarella cheese was fresh tasting. I was more than happy with what I got. I think I make a pretty mean chicken parmigiana at home, but this was excellent.