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Tufano’s Vernon Park tap is sticking to its roots

Photo courtesy: Tufano's webpage
Photo courtesy: Tufano’s webpage

From the homemade authentic Italian meals to the chalkboard paint menu on the wall, Tufano’s Vernon Park Tap in the heart of Little Italy has been sticking to family traditions for 86 years. Tufano’s first opened in 1930 and is still up and running at the same location it has been at for more than eight decades. Tufano’s is an all cash business. The family runs their business in the same way that it opened 86 years ago. They manage the restaurant in this specific way to capture the essence of how they first began.

“We don’t even have a sign and are hard to find since we are the residential area of Little Italy, but we are who we are: old school,” manager Darci Pinello said.

The family has been dishing out its favorites for three generations. The restaurant is currently run by Darci Pinello and her father, Joey DiBuono. “The best part of running a family business is knowing that we have established a legacy,” Pinello said.

Pinello has been the manager for six years but has been working in the family establishment for 10. The family has created a warm and welcoming business to give their customers a full and authentic Italian family dinner.

“I’ve always had the feeling like I was sitting in my grandma’s kitchen. That’s how Joey and his staff make everyone feel. The quality of food is just like your grandma would make,” said Arlene Lobas, 49, insurance and patient care coordinator from Plainfield, Illinois.

The family’s roots trace back to Naples, Italy, where Pinello’s great grandmother is from. Pinello said that they still use her recipe for their tomato sauce. “We call it gravy. It’s a secret recipe.”

The business has remained alive for so many years because of its dedication. There is always a family member there to ensure that everything is running smoothly and that their customers receive the best service possible.

“I have to give my dad credit. He is always there. People come in just to see him,” Pinello said. “We’re very unique. When people want an authentic meal, they come to us.”  

“I ordered angel hair pasta with their gravy and it was delicious. It tasted very similar to my grandma’s,” Ariana Dolce, 20, college student from Wheaton, Illinois said. Traditionally, Italian-Americans call their pasta sauce “tomato sauce”, “marinara”, and sometimes, “gravy.”  

“We keep things authentic and traditional; simple, easy, it’s what works,” Pinello said.

Their fan base and James Beard Award manifest the quality of their classic dishes. The James Beard Foundation Awards are annual awards presented by the James Beard Foundation for excellence in cuisine, culinary writing, and culinary education in the United States. The awards are frequently called “The Oscars of Food.”

Tufano’s was awarded the “American Classic Award” by the foundation. Shortly after winning this prestigious award, Tufano’s was featured on Guy Fieri’s hit show,  Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.

“He was so nice. The way you see him on his show is how he is in person. It was an opportunity that has continued to help our business flourish,” Pinello said.

Pinello and the rest of the family did not realize how popular the show was until after the episode aired and they became a destination spot in the Windy City.

Most restaurants work with local hotels to recommend them, but Tufano’s is not one of those restaurants. “We were a word of mouth type of place before we were on the show. People have been coming from all over the place just to eat our food,” Pinello said.

Sunday night the restaurant was filled with customers; some who were new to Tufanos.  “Tonight is my first time eating here with my family and I can definitely say that we will be back. They cook just like my family does; big, tasteful, and with passion,” said Sandy Pitello, 53, a hairdresser from Elmhurst, Illinois.

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