Nido’s Little Italy Ristorante Boasts Flavors, Old and New
Americans love Italian food. In many ways, we’ve made it our own, practically eating our weight in pizza every year. These portable portions of deliciousness grace school lunch trays, conference tables, picnic blankets and coffee tables by the ton. Quick, economical spaghetti dinners come to the rescue of harried parents and community fundraisers, as well, while lasagna is the queen of potluck casseroles. In all, it seems that bubbling mozzarella and basil-spiked tomato sauce is a magic elixir for calling friends out of the woodwork.
Nido’s Little Italy Ristorante in Frederick has plied the population with such treats for nearly 30 years. Opening in 1987, its white-washed brick façade faces the C. Burr Artz Public Library on East Patrick Street. Inside, it is a warren of rustic brick and dark-wood dining rooms, separated by archways that make it feel more ancient than the building’s mere 129-year history. For all its architectural classicism, the restaurant is cruising into its fourth decade with owners Lianne DeLawter and Eric von Post at the helm. The pair took over the well-established business from Ralph Izardi on July 1, 2014.
DeLawter, a Frederick native, started working in the restaurant business “as a kid,” busing tables at Bushwaller’s, another enduring local favorite. She met von Post, who grew up in Montgomery County, four years ago as coworkers and they discovered a shared dream of heading up a restaurant. He says they planned on something small and cozy, about 1,000 square feet, where they could serve fresh and simple fare, such as pizza, burgers and home-style soups. They’d make the food they wanted to eat in an atmosphere they wanted to share with family and friends.
Just as the duo started to look for space in earnest, they learned through a broker that Nido’s might be available. The chance to own this little piece of Frederick history was an opportunity they couldn’t resist. DeLawter says it was important to respect the restaurant’s legacy: “We wanted to make the transition as seamless as possible.” So, they took the first year as an opportunity to observe and plan how to balance their customers’ favorite aspects of the place with touches of their own.
At nearly four times the square footage of their initial concept, they jumped into refreshing the décor first. The walls were painted. The floors were spruced up. They swapped out tile for caramel-colored bead board on the upstairs and added a lounging nook with couches. Nido’s also garnered a full liquor license, to complement its long-standing beer and wine service. Visitors who saw the bar area—before and after—gave the effort a definite thumbs-up. Its open layout works well for groups that use the space for gatherings.
Even the patio got its share of TLC, with von Post and his father, Stig, putting in a heaping helping of sweat-equity throughout. “I never imagined we’d do something this big,” says von Post, who is working on ways to make Nido’s outdoor space and bar a social hot spot deep into the fall season.
Changes to the menu emerged slowly, as von Post and DeLawter worked with local suppliers to recreate traditional recipes. “We definitely want to support our neighbors,” she says. They serve sausage from Shuff’s Meat Market in Thurmont and authentic cheeses obtained from Juliet’s Italian Market & Café a few blocks away, but the red sauce recipe is sacred. Customers can still take home a jar (or a case) bottled by McCutcheon’s Apple Products. Perennial favorites remain, like their pizza with house-made dough, battered eggplant parmigiana and baked ziti with savory sausage. They play counterpoint to picatta, saltimbocca and marsala selections. Salmon, served atop tender-crisp veggies and a mound of thick fettuccini noodles, is a new addition, too. There are hearty salads, such as the pear over mixed greens with candied walnuts and gorgonzola crumbles bathed in house-made vinaigrette or the popular caprese with tomato, basil and mozzarella.
Never fear, Nido’s classic white pizza, a bestseller topped with garlic, fontina cheese and extra-virgin olive oil, is here to stay. Customers can get their fix of this fave as part of Nido’s new late night menu, in a new 20-inch size, on Fridays and Saturdays from 10 p.m. until 12:30 a.m. The owners agree that it’s their favorite, too. “We all eat white pizza every day,” says DeLawter, acknowledging its siren
call. Von Post is experimenting with gluten-free dough, too.
One of the biggest changes to the menu is the addition of brunch on Saturdays and Sundays until 3 p.m. Prices range from $8 to $15 for inventive options such as: smoked salmon bruschetta, a take on bagels and lox; “Green Eggs and Ham” with mortadella and spinach; luscious Florence Benedict with crab and asparagus; and Nido’s breakfast lasagna—sheets of pasta stacked with sausage gravy, egg, fontina, tomato and fennel. Brunchers can also partake of mimosas flavored with lemon-basil or blood orange and other spiked beverages.
They also offer plenty of motivation for people to try the place—again. Mondays are buy-one-get-one entrees and Tuesdays are half-price bottles of wine. Kids under 10 eat free with an adult on Wednesdays, plus happy hours and lunch specials fill in the week.
There’s a wine dinner every other month, featuring selected varieties, food pairings and insight to all things vino. Nido’s also partners with the Curious Iguana book store on Market Street to host a bi-monthly book club with foodie benefits. Patrons reserve one of 14 spots for $35 and get a voucher for a food-related book. Then they come back to enjoy lively discussion and a prepaid family-style meal that is relevant to the story.
DeLawter and von Post expected some backlash to the changes, but they say that most of the feedback is overwhelmingly positive. “This place has such a great vibe. It’s unlike any other,” says DeLawter, who is humbled by customers’ personal connections to Nido’s. “People have a family history here. They’ve celebrated their graduations, christenings, engagements and so many important life events at this restaurant. People who came here as kids now bring their own kids.”
Looking forward, the two agree that they appreciate being stewards of such a beloved establishment and they love when customers share stories about their experiences over the years. They are just as excited to leave their mark on its history as well. “We are evolving,” says DeLawter. A progredire! (To progress!)