Daniel Parillo spent summers as a kid traveling between his local home and his grandparents’ goat, chestnut, and fig farms in Caserta, Italy.
There, in his grandmother’s kitchen in the Campanian countryside, he first learned to love the smell and taste of wood-fired pizza, meat, and vegetables.
“It’s like night and day,” Parillo said in a recent interview with the Independent about the richness of flavor of food cooked over a wood stove rather than one powered by gas or electricity.
Parillo is looking to bring a little bit of that wood-smoked Italian country taste to State Street with Nolo, a new restaurant to be located in the old Jet Cleaners building at 687 State St.
He and his business partner Derek Bacon plan to open the new restaurant, which they’ve been working on since the end of 2016, in early October. The new restaurant is located just around the corner from Olmo, another new Italian-inspired eatery, which will be opening in the old Caseus location at the corner of Trumbull Street and Whitney Avenue some time in the next few weeks.
Nolo, which means “freight” in Italian, and which Bacon said refers to the major cooking apparatuses and brewing equipment that populate the new restaurant, isn’t Parillo’s first stab at serving Italian food in East Rock. In 2012, he and Bacon opened Da Legna, the popular pizza place at the corner of State Street and Clark Street that also uses a wood-fired oven to serve everything from vegan and gluten- free pies to artisanal pies laden with wild mushrooms and burrata cheese.
Parillo and Bacon said they don’t plan on closing Da Legna any time soon. But with Nolo, the two are looking to expand upon their successful pizza place in size, menu, and design, and also pivot a bit from a restaurant focused on pizza to one that includes handcrafted pasta and housemade beer. And, of course, wood-fired everything.
“My grandmother would use the wood fire stove and I would hang around with her,” Parillo said on a recent tour of Nolo, winding his way to the restaurant’s kitchen through a spacious warehouse of a dining area retrofitted with smoothly polished wooden countertops and barstools (courtesy of Fair Haven’s Reclamation Lumber) and speckled purple lounges and lightning-bolt-shaped lights (courtesy of Toronto’s hollis+morris).
“There’s something about an open fire,” he said. “When you see a flame, it’s very comforting.” He said working with wood-fired stoves is more challenging than working with gas or electric stoves, because the heat is never constant and a chef has to constantly adapt to the changing cooking conditions.
He said he likes that challenge, and loves the end result.
In the kitchen, he showed off a wood-fired stove made by the Minnesota-based manufacturer Grillworks. On that stove, he said, a team of five Nolo chefs will prepare a range of poultry, steaks, burgers, and seafood, as well as wood-fired grilled cheese sandwiches and wood-fired mac ‘n’ cheese.
Adjacent to the kitchen and just past a giant wall mural of a red train barreling through a thunderstorm, as painted by North Branford-artist Marc Potocsky, are two hulking, clay-colored, wood-fired pizza ovens, both from the Neapolitan oven maker Stefano Ferrara.
“We’ll be using organic, non-GMO flours,” Parillo said about the pizzas at Nolo. He said some of the flours will come from King Arthur Flour in Vermont, some from Maine Grains in Maine.
“Obviously, we have a bigger stage,” Bacon said about the key differences between Da Legna, which is under 3,000 square-feet, and Nolo, which is over 4,500 square-feet. “The space allows us a little bit more focus to be more ambitious with service, menu, and drink.”
For that latter category, he’s specifically referring to Nolo’s partnership with the Erector Brewing Collective, which will be brewing small batches of craft beer on premises from a brew room that looks out onto the restaurant’s State Street patio.
Bacon said that the beers brewed on site will be reserved specifically for consumption at Nolo, even as Erector continues to can and distribute beer out of the Overshores Brewing Company in East Haven.
“The small batch system allows us to play with things that we have ideas with in the kitchen and try to bring them to the glass,” he said about the connection between Nolo’s food and Erector’s beer.
Bull(dog)ish On New Haven
And with Da Legna still chugging up the block, and Nolo set to open in just a few weeks, Parillo and Bacon already have their eyes set on yet another culinary venture based out of the Elm City. After Nolo, the two plan on opening “Handsome Dan’s.”
“It’s our franchise model that we created,” Parillo said. “More collegiate.” The two imagine it as mostly takeout, with limited seating, and located somewhere near Yale’s campus to start, and hopefully branching out to other college towns and cities later.
Parillo said that Handsome Dan’s will sell “Detroit-style” pizza, and that he and Bacon are coming up with their own bread and sandwich program for that venture, even as they put the finishing touches on Nolo.
As he greeted his parents, back in New Haven for the day to check out the nearly finished restaurant, Parillo said that he hasn’t been over to Italy in a while to visit his family and that he’s long overdue for a trip.
“I’ve been so busy,” he said. “Because I’m continuously opening businesses.”
Learn more about Nolo by following them on Instagram @jet2nolo. The new restaurant’s hours will be Sundays from 9 a.m. to 1 a.m., Mondays through Thursdays from 9 a.m. through 1 a.m., and Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. through 2 a.m.