This is a restaurant that’s all about seafood, Italian food, and just flat out really good food all around. It’s called Tonno, which is Italian for tuna. And fish is certainly a dominant theme in their locations in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and this one in downtown Wakefield. But for chef / owner Anthony Caturano, it’s just a cool, casual spot for some of the freshest food on the North Shore.
Anthony Caturano: “Tonno restaurant in Wakefield is an Italian restaurant. We have a lot of seafood, we have grilled meats, we make all of our own pasta here, real fun bar. We made the menu approachable for everybody… So we try to make it comfortable for everybody. You can come in dressed up, dressed down, casual, business casual, or it’s a great place for a first date as well. So you know the atmosphere of the restaurant is real light, open, lots of natural sunlight, you wanna feel like you’re in a young, vibrant, hip place and the décor sorta matches a lot of that… but overall it’s just a warm, comforting place to be in.”
From the nautical sound paneling over the bar, to the artwork on the walls, fish comes first here. In fact, Anthony is an avid fisherman himself, and the name of his boat is Tonno as well. But his passion for food started at home.
Anthony Caturano: “I grew up in Revere and my grandmother, my whole family actually lived around the corner so I spent a lot of time when I was younger, around my family. Every Sunday we had dinner at somebody’s house, home cooked meals. And as I got older, I tried to go to college and that didn’t really work out, but the one thing I missed was all that good home cooked food. I’d go to the cafeteria and I’d be like you know, what is this? I can’t eat this.” Thus, Anthony took matters into his own hands, headed off to cooking school, and eventually, he opened the critically-acclaimed Prezza restaurant in Boston’s North End. So now at Tonno, he’s staying true to his roots.
Anthony Caturano: “I just think you know, Italian cooking is something that comes from the heart and something that’s always made from scratch, and I think to stay true to that you have to do a lot of that stuff by yourself.”
The start of your meal here is all about sfitzi, sharable Italian style small plates. There’s the signature Tonno Tartare with chive oil. Lightly breaded arancini packed with melted cheese. And of course, the Caturano family’s famous hand-rolled meatballs.
Anthony Caturano: “This is sorta how my grandmother made them as I was a kid, or even my mother. You’d wake up in the morning and you’d smell these meatballs frying in the pan and then they’d put them in the tomato sauce and we’d call it gravy. Lots of love, couple of secrets, but a lot of cheese, good quality meat and a mixture of meat. We use pork, veal, and beef. Serve it just with tomato sauce, real simple, some grated parmesan cheese over the top so it’s got a real good, meaty flavor to it.”
In terms of seafood starters, popular choices include the crispy fried calamari with cherry peppers. The spicy octopus is simmered until it’s tender, then seared a la plancha with tomato, oregano, and spices. But if you ask Anthony for some advice on what appetizer to order…
Anthony Caturano: “I would say the crab cake. I like to think maybe it’s healthy even though I know it’s not. Much like the meatball, we don’t use a lot of filler in it, it’s predominantly crab meat. We bind it together with a little egg, sour cream, a little bit of mustard and some herbs. We just flour it and fry it in a pan, and it gets crispy on the outside but not crunchy like a deep fried item.”
OK, we’ve waited long enough. Now it’s time for the pasta course, and you really can’t go wrong with any of the homemade choices here. There’s sausage and broccoli rabe over orecchiette. Spaghetti Fra Diavolo with Shrimp. And the spectacular Tagliatelle Bolognese.
Anthony Caturano: “You know, the bolognese, it was sorta developed by one of my first chefs… Back when we first opened Prezza we made this great bolognese sauce it’s not real traditional, it has a lot of tomato but we cook it down with a lot of wine and chicken stock and veal stock, here we use fennel cream. It just has a tremendous amount of flavor. This cooks about five, six hours, kind of an all day project to make it.”
For the main course, the grilled tuna steak is one of the biggest sellers. And the Cioppino has a devoted following as well. But Anthony’s favorite is the Pork Chop.
Anthony Caturano: “You know I can remember going to my grandmother’s house and she would make these vinegar peppers, or she would always be cooking potatoes and roasting meat. So the pork chop we brine it, we serve with some vinegar peppers, a little bit of the vinegar and we toss that with the potatoes. So it has a sweet vinegar and earthy flavor, but then we have the brine so when you eat the pork chop, it really all comes together well.”
Finish things off with a fluffy slice of Tiramisu, and you’ve reeled yourself in a heck of a meal at Tonno.
Anthony Caturano: “I think it’s just a great destination restaurant as well as being in the downtown area of Wakefield. It’s easy to get to, right off the highway… it’s just a good, fun, hip place to come to.”
175 North Avenue
Wakefield, MA 01880