By SAMANTHA SMYLIE
Ascione Bistro, a highly anticipated Italian restaurant, has opened at the Hyde Park Shopping Center, 1500 E. 55th St., offering both classic and modern Italian dishes prepared by Chef Gaetano Ascione.
The bistro is in a “soft opening” mode with a limited menu now while staff is being hired and trained, but Chef Ascione expects that to change in the next few weeks.
Ascione is from Naples, Italy but he has worked in Chicago for 5 years. He was a chef at Gioco, an Italian restaurant in the South Loop located at 1312 S. Wabash Ave., before it closed in 2018 after 19 years.
Before he committed to coming to Hyde Park to open Ascione Bistro, the chef was steered away from the South Side.
“Everybody who comes from outside always says, ‘Don’t go to the South Side. It’s dangerous.’ So, for 5 years, I never came to the South Side,” said Ascione.
Ascione changed his mind once he received an invitation from an administration official at the University of Chicago to visit the area on a cold day almost two years ago. “I came down here, and I walked around, and it reminded me of a little town back in England,” he said. “It was very cozy and very elegant, especially the style of the buildings. I said ‘Man, someone has been lying to me. This is a nice place.'”
After his visit, Ascione knew that he wanted to run a restaurant in the neighborhood. Hyde Park reminded him of his home and his experiences growing up in a small town, he said.
“I come from a little town and we all always knew each other,” he said. “We could never get in trouble because there was always a lady who pointed to me and say ‘I will tell your mother.’ That’s what gives me the feeling around here – everybody knows each other.”
In addition to the small town feeling of Hyde Park, Ascione believes that it is a great business opportunity because of new developments happening in the area and he noticed a need for an Italian restaurant.
Hyde Parkers can expect some classic and modern Italian cuisine from Ascione Bistro. Ascione is the type of chef who does not worry about sticking to a recipe, but is invested in cooking a meal with fresh ingredients. His style is simple but elegant.
“The thing is that Italian eating, it’s very volatile. It is very subjective to ingredients, to weather, to people. You can adapt it to that. So, I have some dishes that are very classic and I will never change because that’s classic,” he said. “But there are a lot of other dishes that I like to put together or I like to experiment. That’s what Italian cuisine give us, a way to expand, to do things, to use all the ingredients that are produced around the world without bastardizing it.”
Even though the feel of Ascione is upscale, the chef wants to welcome the community and their families into the restaurant. He enjoys seeing children around the restaurant, talking to customers about the food they like, and he expects his waiters to be casual. The only thing that he would like not to do in his restaurant is serve ketchup with the Kennebec truffle fries because he feels that it would ruin the entire experience for customers. However, Ascione believes that his dishes will please residents in the community.
The menu features items for all diets, according to Ascione “50 percent of Italian food is vegetarian.” Appetizers run between $8-$16, Pasta dishes cost between $14 and $25, Entrees will run upwards from $25. They also have a bar where you can buy an assortment of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.