Nonna’s Pizzeria & Wine Bar: Member Spotlight

On Nashville’s west side, Italian comfort food stands out on the roster of restaurants lining Murphy Road in the Sylvan Park Neighborhood. New York expat Chef Daniel Maggipinto—Danny, as he calls himself—opened Caffé Nonna in 1999 with business partner Bob Sillers, introducing the up-and-coming neighborhood to homemade, authentic Italian pastas, pizzas and sandwiches. A more casual spinoff called Nonna’s Pizzeria & Wine Bar in opened 2012.

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Nonna’s Pizzeria, which shares an entrance with its sister restaurant, is the quintessential cozy wine bar serving gourmet pizzas, piadinis—that’s a part-calzone, part-panini cooked in the oven before being stuffed with fresh ingredients and finished off in a panini press—and more from the artisanal wood-fired oven. In addition to Italian fare, Nonna’s Pizzeria also offers an impressive Italian wine and beer menu.

The quaint restaurant is filled with tables and chairs that overflow onto the outdoor patio. It’s a get-to-know-your-neighbor, family-friendly vibe perfect for a casual night of authentic, affordable comfort food… the kind of spot that the family-heavy Sylvan Park Neighborhood embraces.

“I think putting Nonna’s Pizzeria here has added a lot to the neighborhood,” Danny says. “Nashville’s a really neighborhood-driven city, and Sylvan Park is a big family spot. At both places, we love to see families come in. We’re whole-heartedly la familia.”

Danny’s inspired cooking comes from his own nonna (grandmother) who was known for hosting large, family-style Italian meals when he was younger. He recalls growing up with the term “family” being synonymous with more than just your blood relatives, but also your grandparents’ friends, your cousin’s boyfriend and your mother’s sister-in-law.

After serving in the Army, Danny attended the New York Restaurant School because, as he says, it was just in his blood. He traveled the U.S., cooking in Maine, Vermont, Rhode Island, Colorado and back in New York before working under chefs in China and France.

In 1996, Danny moved to his wife Maria’s hometown of Nashville, where he worked in the kitchens of several local landmarks of the time—places like Arthur’s in the Union Station Hotel, and Catwalk. He also opened a popular Mediterranean-influenced vegetarian restaurant, the Dancing Bear on Church Street, but it was his Italian heritage that drove him to join Bob Sillers in finally opening Caffé Nonna and Nonna’s Pizzeria. Nashville rejoices every day for it.

Nonna’s Pizzeria favorites include the red pepper hummus; the spicy Mediterranean nuts roasted in the wood-fired oven; the traditional arugula salad with the smoky nuts, creamy goat cheese and olive oil; the Nonna pie, which is a classic cheese and basil pizza baked to perfection; the Italian bacon-cheese dip made with pancetta, beer and a variety of cheeses; and the lasagna Nonna, lamb shank Toscana and seafood Angelina, which were recently given high praise by celebrity chef Guy Fieri of the Food Network Show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. The desserts don’t disappoint either, from the award-winning bread pudding and Danny’s nonna’s ricotta cheesecake to the revered chocolate-dipped cannoli with Nutella filling.

Many of the recipes were passed down to Danny from his grandmother, and in true Italian form.

“Most of the family recipes aren’t actually written down,” he says. “My grandmother never used recipes, she did it all by eye. You know, a little of this, a little of that. While I was in culinary school, I started going over to her house to watch her fix these dishes, and I just slowly picked up on them.”

Along with Caffé Nonna and Nonna’s Pizzeria, Danny also runs Nonna’s Gourmet Foods. Opened in 2003, the online store is a one-stop shop for Italian cuisine—bottled sauces, homemade pasta, crackers, jelly and more. Proceeds benefit The Zoe Marie Brain Tumor Research Fund which helps raise money to aid the fight against childhood illnesses. A percentage of sales from Caffé Nonna and Nonna’s Pizzeria also go to the fund.

Danny and Maria’s own daughter, Zoe Marie Maggipinto, lost the fight to childhood cancer in 2002, and Danny says they were inspired to create the organization by the wonderful treatment their daughter received while at St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.

Family is at the core of the three businesses. It’s engrained in the recipes and it’s behind the passion that drives Danny to continue to do what he does everyday. It’s all in the name, and Danny’s nonna is his inspiration.

“I do the best I can to do her justice,” he says. “I think she’s happy.”

It’s that love of family, customer service that goes the extra mile and authentic Italian food made fresh everyday that have kept Nashvillians coming back for years past, and will continue to bring families to the Sylvan Park spot for many years to come.

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