On the walls and in the dishes, Chris Richardson’s Old World roots will be on display when his newest restaurant, Novella’s Italian Restaurant & Bar, opens Friday on the Gainesville square.
Richardson, who also owns nearby restaurants YellowFin Restaurant and Recess Southern Gastro-Pub, was putting final touches Wednesday on the eatery at 115 Washington St. NW, former home of a longtime downtown staple, The Monkey Barrel.
Tasks included adjusting paintings that will hang on the 76-seat restaurant’s brick walls, depicting immigrants traveling by ship to or gathered at Ellis Island, N.Y.
“Novella is my grandparents’ name,” Richardson said. “They came (to America) from Italy when they were 15, 16 years old. … So, the restaurant will be a little bit about my family history.”
Richardson has a bit of a tough act to follow. The Monkey Barrel operated for 23 years, becoming a local favorite, known for its pizza, garlic knots and craft beer. Its final day was Dec. 31.
“It was very popular,” Richardson said.
He has spent the past eight months remodeling and transforming the building, which dates back at least a century and features tin ceiling panels distinctive of its era, to create an Old World ambience.
“There was so much work that needed to be done,” Richardson said.
Novella’s Italian Restaurant & Bar
Opening day: Friday
Hours: 4-10 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday
Address: 115 Washington St. NW, Gainesville
At Novella’s, food that’s both homemade and authentic will be the main emphasis.
The menu features familiar appetizers, such as bruschetta and garlic knots, but also perhaps some foods that are lesser known, such as arancini di riso, which are meatballs made of saffron rice, basil, buffalo milk mozzarella and Tamworth pork ragu.
It’s the same story with pasta dishes.
There’s the familiar spaghetti and lasagna, and then there’s the pappardelle alla Bolognese, made of Tamworth pork, bacon and parmesan cheese.
The Tamworth, a pig breed originating in Europe, is raised locally.
“There are only 300 breeders in the entire world,” Richardson said. “It’s got a very unique flavor. … Very rarely would you ever see it in a restaurant. It’s much more expensive than regular pork.”
“We’re trying to get back to grandma’s kitchen. Fresh pastas, great meatballs — everything is scratch Italian.”Edward DeTommaso
Novella’s chefs, Stephen Callari and Edward DeTommaso also have Italian heritage.
“We’re excited to bring this (food) to Gainesville,” Callari said. “It’s real, traditional, full-flavored Italian cuisine.”
“We’re trying to get back to grandma’s kitchen,” DeTommaso said. “Fresh pastas, great meatballs — everything is scratch Italian.”
Also, the wine list features drinks by the glass or bottle.
The menu could expand “as we get feedback from our customers,” Richardson said.
And so could the hours. Initially, the restaurant will be open 4-10 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday.
“We going to start off tight, get it together, then start to expand to lunch and other night times,” Richardson said.
He said he otherwise is excited about the ongoing surge in downtown establishments.
“We’ve got a lot of good restaurants and nightlife going on down here,” he said. “It’s starting to become a destination.”
Callari echoed that sentiment.
“I love what the square is becoming,” he said. “It’s small town and people know each other.”