The neighborhood Italian restaurant. Comfortable. Affordable. Serving fresh-made pastas, wood-fired pizzas, and slow-simmered sauces. In the Nonantum section of Newton, Massachusetts, Olivia’s Bistro has quickly become the neighborhood’s Italian restaurant of choice, thanks to the cool, laid-back atmosphere and Chef John Hanlon’s incredible cuisine.
John Hanlon: “Olivia’s Bistro is the perfect idea of a neighborhood restaurant in my opinion. I think it really embodies what it means to be a part of something, in this case, Nonantum. I would say we do it right by giving the people that come in here something that is approachable, but at the same time they have options that are outside of their box where they would normally really delve into. So you kinda get people to come in here for what they’re feeling safe about, and they wind up leaving having tried something totally new and totally different.”
It’s hard to imagine that this cheery, bright, and trendy space was for many years a dive bar. But it’s been completely transformed, adding an open kitchen so you can watch the kitchen crew crank out dishes, without taking any shortcuts.
John Hanlon: “The foundation of good Italian food is time. You can’t rush time. Time is what tastes the best. You can say these mushrooms are great or this sauce is great. But no one ever says… the time it took is great. And really that’s the most important part of any Italian food.”
To get things started, order an overflowing board of imported Italian meats and cheeses. Dive into a bowl of mussels cooked up with garlic, white white, and plenty of butter, the broth just begging for a dip from the rustic grilled bread. And of course, traditional, hand-rolled beef and pork meatballs.
John Hanlon: “Polpette are house-made meatballs. They are slowly simmered in our house tomato-basil sauce, and we serve them in a beautiful little cast iron, garnish of Pecorino Romano, and fresh thyme parsley. I’m a huge fan of them, and everybody that comes in here seems to be a huge fan of them, and even my mom begrudgingly would admit that they’re really good.”
Pizzas are Oliva’s Bistro are cooked in the authentic Neapolitan style, with dough that’s made fresh every day, hand-stretched, and topped with San Marzano tomatoes, high quality mozzarella, and fresh basil. So you can get a traditional margherita pizza piping hot straight out of the wood-fired oven. The Diavola with spicy thick cut pepperoni. Or this one designed for mushroom-lovers.
John Hanlon: “Our mushroom pizza is called the Fungi Pizza. I’m a big fan of mushrooms so anytime I can get them on a menu I try to. The fungi is great because it has this abundance of mushrooms, it has this nice creamy rich taleggio. Earthy, cheesy, creamy, and then the right amount of lemon to just cut through everything else.”
The pasta course at Olivia’s is when the kitchen really shines. There’s the creamy Roman style Caccio e Pepe, and a stunning housemade squid ink linguine with shrimp and calamari. But truth be told, it’s just about impossible to take a pass on the Bolognese.
John Hanlon: “Our bolognese is spectacular in my opinion, the key part in a bolognese is taking your time with it. This is our bolognese. It’s been on the stove now for about 4 hours. So we serve our bolognese with pappardelle. It’s nice, rich, meaty, hardy, heavy sauce, and it’s just works with these nice big ribbons of pappardelle. It should immediately satisfy your hunger, you should leave there feeling happy, and you should wanna go to bed.”
For another hearty red sauce classic, check out the Chicken Parm that’s blanketed in mozzarella and served over penne pasta. There’s a popular grilled Flat Iron Steak served with hand-cut truffled fries and arugula salad. Or even better, go for the Cioppino.
“It’s heavy, it’s spicy, there’s little acidity to it, you’ve creaminess from these nice big cannellini beans, you got meaty monkfish, you’ve got these awesome mussels, fresh shrimp. It’s just, if you like seafood you’re gonna love the cioppino. The broth can’t be beat. It just hits all the right notes for like a nice seafood stew.”
And since we’ve come this far, we might as go all the way and get some dessert as well. And at Olivia’s, that means Zeppole, or Italian style donuts.
John Hanlon: “Our zeppole are almost like pillows of happiness in my opinion. So we fry them to order, they get tossed in this cocoa, and brown sugar… mixture. And then they get plated over zabaione… and then they get finished with a drizzle of Nutella hazelnut fudge sauce. You walk away a little bit messier, ’cause you’re just shoving them right into your face.”
So, it’s pretty easy to see why this neighborhood restaurant is always full of happy customers, and customers happy that they’re full.
John Hanlon: “We’re a bistro, we’re a small restaurant, we’re a neighborhood restaurant, we wanna give you all the kinda feels that you would expect if you walked in here on a Monday night looking to get some takeout as you would on a Friday night when you’re looking to sit at the bar. The goal is to make great food, and make people’s nights, and have good dining experiences, but we’re in this ’cause we wanna have fun.”
136 Adams Street
Newton, MA 02458