WHO’S IN CHARGE Anthony Caturano was only 25 when he opened his first restaurant, Prezza, 18 years ago on Fleet Street in Boston’s North End. Following that success, Caturano has opened a second restaurant, Tonno, in Gloucester.
“I just wanted something a little more simple, a little more like the food you’d eat at home,” he said. “Not quite as intricate to cook, or to execute. Something that would remind you of when you were a kid.”
Italian for “tuna,” Tonno opened in June in the heart of Gloucester’s downtown, a stone’s throw from the new Beauport Hotel. Caturano said he hopes his restaurant will prove to be one of the highlights of a seaside city in transition.
“I don’t think Gloucester is a secret spot, but I think more people should go up and see what it has to offer,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff going on that I don’t think people realize, like the arts and theater, art galleries, music, shopping. It’s not very commercial, so it’s very unique.”
THE ATMOSPHERE: Tonno is in the historic Blackburn Tavern building, which pays homage to the man – Howard Blackburn – who epitomizes the city’s gritty reputation for toughness and perseverance.
Inside, Tonno’s red brick walls boast an interesting mix of fine art and campy, old school photos of fishermen proudly displaying their trophy tuna catches.
My wife Lauri loved the ambiance created by the calming, neutral colors reminiscent of a seascape on an overcast day. Seating for 99 is varied. You can find several cozy corner tables in the main dining area, or step down to a smaller, adjoining room featuring a gas fireplace tucked into original granite stone, providing a nice backdrop for a soothing night out. Tall, pub-style tables closer to the bar encourage conversation.
“It’s something different for the area, something comfortable, warm, and modern, but not too contemporary where it’s intimidating to people,” said Caturano. “I wanted it to be like a neighborhood restaurant.”
ON THE MENU Caturano promises variety at Tonno, and his menu — including a raft of daily specials — delivers.
There’s a terrific selection of appetizers, including Tonno TarTare ($15), a different crudo every day ($14), and an octopus, potato, and black olive salad ($12). My wife and I decided to split the Gem Salad ($8). A mix of Romaine lettuces, escarole, radishes, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, salami, and lightly dressed in mustard vinaigrette with fresh parmesan, the salad was an ode to the joys of farm-fresh ingredients.
Caturano’s favorite entrees include Tonno’s signature Grilled Tuna Steak with white beans ($28) and the Grilled Pork Chop with potato and vinegar peppers ($25). We went in a different direction. Lauri opted for the Cod Oreganatta ($26), an excellent example of the “simpler” dishes that Caturano said he wants to define Tonno. Served with creamy leeks and a rich dollop of mashed potatoes, the mild filet was same-day delicious, baked in a basic traditional style with a light crumb topping.
My Spaghetti Fra Diavalo ($24) featured thick, chewy strands that revealed Caturano’s commitment to making all pasta in-house. The spicy red sauce had a delightful bite that was far from overwhelming. I requested lightly seared scallops instead of the advertised shrimp, and the chef accommodated without question, and without any corresponding price hike. That nod to customer service was as impressive as the dish.
We finished with a time-honored North End flourish, sharing a decaf cappuccino ($5.50) and cannoli ($6) for dessert. The three rich, cream-filled cannolis were a decadent exclamation mark on a thoroughly satisfying meal.
Tonno, 2 Main St., Gloucester. 978-879-4795, tonnorestaurant.com.