What do you do when you relocate to another country, visit the restaurants that say they offer the cuisine of your heritage, but you find yourself disappointed that it just doesn’t live up to your expectations, or taste the same as when you’re eating at home? You open your own restaurant.
That is exactly what the Solimine family – dad Tonino Sr., his wife Helen, and son Tonino Jr., did. The Italian family that has been visiting The Bahamas their entire lives, relocated two years ago, and in eating out in search of authentic Italian flavors, they said they just weren’t pleased with what they found, and have since thrown open the doors to Tonino’s Osteria on West Bay Street where they are serving up cuisine made from their family’s recipes.
And Helen is at the restaurant daily ensuring that what’s coming out of the kitchen is up to her exacting standards.
“Tonino’s is an authentic Italian restaurant,” said Toninio, Jr. “We’ve been everywhere and the food is just not the same as when we cook at home. So, my mom and dad wanted to start something where you could go to a restaurant and you could feel like you’re at home having an Italian dinner, or like you’re in Italy having authentic Italian food. We’re from the United States – my father [Tonino, Sr.] is from Italy. We wanted to open a restaurant in The Bahamas because we love it here, but we wanted that restaurant to offer authentic Italian food that you can’t really get here.”
To ensure the strictest quality, Tonino Jr. said that they also ship all of their ingredients from Italy to ensure that the food they serve is as authentic as possible.
To date I’ve visited Tonino’s a couple of times and absolutely loved the meatballs which were light and flavorful and Tonino informed me were classically made in the Italian way with three meats and not just beef.
I’ve also enjoyed the frittura di calamari (fried calamari) with marinara sauce and the shrimp parmesan special offered on the day with an arugula salad.
The calamari which was lightly coated was just the way I like it. But I was even more impressed with the marinara sauce which was bright, robust and acidic. It was that same sauce that bathed the shrimp parmesan which again was brightly flavored and tempered with the spicy bite from the arugula salad that was complemented with the sweet cherry tomatoes for a perfect accompaniment.
To be honest, there are so many items on the menu that I’m dying to sink my teeth into and the offerings are wide and varied, including a pizza menu with a mushroom, mozzarella and truffle oil pizza that I can’t wait to try. And with their bright, delightful marinara sauce, I can just imagine how great their other pizzas are, because their tomato sauce shouldn’t stray too far from simple, but great quality for a delicious taste.
In true Italian fashion, the Solimines have introduced a new word to the culture calling themselves Tonino’s Osteria – because if you’re in Italy, there’s a difference between a trattoria, osteria, ristorante and an enoteca – even though the differences today it is said doesn’t mean as much as in the past as many trattorias and even restaurants call themselves Osteria and vice versa.
Trattorias are traditionally family owned, casual, rustic neighborhood restaurants that serve fresh, unassuming, conventional local food. Ristorante should mean a full-service restaurant with a host or hostess to seat patrons, with a wait staff and sommelier with proper service etiquette with complete a la carte offerings. Osterias are wine bars that have evolved to serve simple meals. Traditionally they are simpler than trattorias. And traditionally enotecas served no food; they were just a place to go and drink wine – now most enoteca serve light appetizers.
Tonino, Jr. also described the just over 50-seat Tonino’s Osteria as a nice place to hang out.
Case in point you can get the story of the Solimine family by just walking into the restroom which they’ve tastefully plastered with images of the family through the years – from the time Tonino, Jr. himself was in nappies.
“I like to make the atmosphere home. And I want them to feel really comfortable,” he said.
Real Housewives of New Jersey “Bravolebrity” Teresa Giudice, in an August 27, 2018 Instagram post, showed a photo of a pal standing in front of an oven that spelled out Tonino’s in blue and white tiles. In her caption, Giudice explained: “Our family friends are opening an authentic Italian restaurant in Nassau, Bahamas! Check out [Tonino’s Osteria] best Italian food on the island!”
Tonino’s Osteria officially opened on March 2 after opening with a soft menu that was continually evolving.
And while he vouches for all of the foods that have been generated from family recipes, if you want to eat like Tonino, Jr., you’re going to always go for the meatballs. He loves the ravioli meatballs for dinner, and he’s a fan of the paninis for lunch – the shrimp parmesan (which I can now vouch for) as well as the tonno panini – Italian tuna and hot cherry peppers which he loves.
It took the Solimines a year to renovate their current location to bring it up to the standard of the eatery they wanted – charming yet elegant with a relaxing ambiance inside, as well as a casual outdoor dining setting. There’s even a brick wall that makes you feel as if you’re in Italy.
And when you do leave, Tonino, Jr., wants you to leave happy, full, ready to come back and tell your friends about the experience.
“I like when people are happy with their food. It makes me happy,” he said.
Tonino’s also offers an Italian-style brunch on Sundays at 11 a.m. that’s become wildly popular.
The restaurant is located next door to the Sandals Royal Bahamian Resort, across the street from Island Luck.
Shavaughn was appointed as the Lifestyles Editor a few years later.