May 3, 2018 By Tara Law
Two Astoria natives are opening a restaurant with a contemporary take on traditional Italian food.
Brothers Michael, 30, and Franco Vendome, 39, will open Nino’s AQ at the intersection of 35th Street and Ditmars Boulevard–where Mussels N’ Sausages was located– this June or July.
The restaurant will offer fresh takes on traditional Italian specialties, including wood fired pizza, homemade pasta and ample healthy and gluten-free options.
The brothers have not finalized Nino’s AQ’s menu yet, but plan to incorporate elements of their existing restaurant, Nino’s 46, which is located on 46th Street in Manhattan. At the restaurant, Franco, the executive chef, takes elements of classic Italian dishes— such as charred octopus— and revitalizes them with ingredients such as a zucchini filling and mango tossed with chili paste.
At Nino’s AQ, Franco said he wants to experiment with light, shareable dishes and crudo— an Italian raw fish specialty. The restaurant will also offer a wine menu featuring local and organic wines.
Although the brothers have a contemporary, sophisticated vision for Nino’s AQ, said Franco, the food and the atmosphere will be low-key.
“We want people to have a city experience but without any pretension,” said Franco. “It’s a family restaurant.”
For the Vendomes, food was an essential part of their childhood. Their parents, a pair of Italian immigrants opened Nino’s 46 in 1982. The Vendome brothers spent their summer breaks working in the restaurant and learning the trade.
As members of a “big Italian family,” the brothers were also exposed to traditional Italian food at every get together with their extended family, said Michael.
“I grew up in it,” he said. “It’s in my blood.”
Franco, the restaurant’s executive chef, took over Nino’s 46 upon his parents’ retirement in 2008, but it was not until a fire damaged the location in 2011 that the brothers’ vision of a sophisticated Italian restaurant began to take shape.
Franco and Michael worked together over the next few years to transform the restaurant— which had been a traditional New York Italian diner— into the modern space it is today.
Now, the brothers intend to expand their vision to Astoria, where Franco says he hopes to try out more innovative options that might not appeal to midtown and business-lunch type crowd.
“I want to go off the beaten path,” said Franco. “I’ve got nothing against the old school stuff, but we like to keep it fresh.”
The restaurant will also incorporate a wide variety of gluten-free pastas and pizzas. For Franco, being gluten-free isn’t just a trend— he’s a sufferer of celiac disease.
“It’s tough as an Italian, but you learn to adapt,” said Franco.
Upon opening, Nino’s AQ will contain about 50 seats inside as well as space for outdoor dining.