Ron Suhanosky’s pop-up on The Street in Chestnut Hill, called Ronsky’s, could be in the South End, or in some chic New York neighborhood.
A vintage enamel kitchen table from the chef’s great-grandmother offers the only indoor seating, with window benches along one side. The floor has been painted big diamonds of gray and cream, and gold sponge splotches decorate pale gray walls. An Art Deco mirror hangs next to the ordering counter, and if you’re lucky enough to grab one of the table seats — or if you feel like braving the chill at a cafe table outside — your soup or salad comes in gray plastic tableware served with ornate gold spoons that might have been bought from the set of “Downton Abbey.” (They’re actually Suhanosky’s Italian godmother’s flatware.)
Everything here is Italian or Italian-inspired. The chef says he’s making interpretations of classic baked goods. “I tend to use tradition as my base, and add my own elements,” he says.
Watch Suhanosky fill your order, or an assistant assemble and grill your panino, and you know you’re looking at well-trained hands. Everything is precise, and movements behind the counter, where three people might be negotiating the space, are balletic.
Suhanosky and his ex-wife, Colleen Marnell-Suhanosky (she owns the charming Rifrullo Cafe just a few miles east off Route 9), once ran Sfoglia in Nantucket and another 40-seat location on New York’s Upper East Side. Here’s what Frank Bruni wrote in a 2007 New York Times review: “You’ll get in, but only if you plan a month ahead, and only if you’re O.K. with eating before 6:30 or after 9:30. Since Sfoglia opened a year ago, it has amassed a sizeable following, and for these devotees it’s not just a restaurant. It’s a religion.”
The chef notices everything — every guest, what they’ve ordered before, what they liked — and thanks customers who come back. All of this adds up to the most appealing place. A tomato-mozzarella panino with pesto on Nashoba Brook Bakery sourdough ($13) is a perfect blend of good-tasting tomatoes (still!) with melting cheese and aromatic basil. Cauliflower, goat cheese, and fig panino ($14) is a brilliant way to enhance the new favorite, though bland, cruciferous veggie. Plump, juicy meatballs and fontina ($15) are pressed into a substantial sandwich. And for breakfast, ham, flat omelet, and fontina ($8) are satisfying and delicious. Italian tuna and fontina ($13) doesn’t have enough melt, and an avocado toast garnished with tomatoes ($9.50) has too much garlic for my early mornings, though it is lovely later in the day.
Suhanosky tries to keep the soups ($4) vegetarian or vegan. A minestrone of cannellini beans, Umbrian chickpeas, farro, spelt, and Swiss chard is one stellar bowl. Ribollita is the most unusual version I’ve tasted, made with black lentils, seven-grain bread, cannellini beans, and kale. The toasted bread doesn’t fall apart and you get big chunks in this wonderful pot. A French lentil soup with whole sage leaves is watery compared to the others. Suhanosky picks greens outside his door from produce beds maintained by Green City Growers.
An iceberg lettuce wedge with gorgonzola and hazelnuts ($8.50) is delightful, though I cannot picture iceberg in the traditional Italian pantry. Kale, roasted delicata, and golden pine nuts ($7.50) is a salad I could eat daily. A big bowl of delicata in the center of the enamel table looks striking and photogenic.
Suhanosky is hosting private dinners for eight to 10 (prices start at $75 per person, no alcohol) and has been cooking osso buco, roasted branzino, and other classics. He’s in talks with The Street management to make this spot a permanent location.
He arrives at 5 a.m. to fill an old wood etagere with biscotti ($1.25 each), pizzelle ($1.25), blueberry scones ($2.50), bread pudding ($5.50), giant cookies ($3.50), and zeppole (3 for $5, 5 for $7.50). The small round zeppole, his great-grandmother’s recipe, are golden, tender little balls of dough (think doughnuts, but ethereal). The scone is crusty outside, and deliciously crumbly; bread pudding might be the best one you’ll ever eat (it’s made with small ends of sourdough left from panini).
Smooth jazz is playing in the background. We sit by the window in the sun enjoying this good food. “I’ll Take Manhattan” is on the soundtrack. Chef, time to change the loop. You’re about to get a Boston following.
3 Boylston St., The Street (next to Star Market), Chestnut Hill, 617-903-2159. All major credit cards. Wheelchair accessible.
Prices Soup and panini ($4-$15).
Hours Daily 7 a.m.-6 p.m. until end of December
What to order Zeppoli, blueberry scone, pizzelle, biscotti, bread pudding, kale salad, iceberg wedge, breakfast panino, tomato and mozzarella panino, cauliflower panino, meatball panino, bean soup, ribollita soup.