BY TRACY ZOLLINGER TURNER
Regular visits with his extended Italian family in Alessandria del Carretto—a small town “in the step of the boot” of the Calabria region—inspired Gregg Rago to bring authentic Italian cuisine to Bloomington. In January, Rago, who co-owns Nick’s English Hut with his wife, Susan Bright, opened Osteria Rago in the converted carriage house that formerly housed the Bloomingfoods Kirkwood location.
“I’ve been thinking about doing this for the last several years,” says Rago, who first leased the space two years ago to install a commissary kitchen for Nick’s. “I’ve always wanted to open an Italian restaurant.”
In Italy, the term osteria indicates a less formal dining establishment than a ristorante, but with rustic charm. “Like your grandmother’s kitchen,” Rago says. He designed the space accordingly, with exposed limestone décor, televisions that feature European sports and classic Italian films, and an enclosed patio with radiant heat that he calls “the solarium.”
When designing the concept for the cuisine, Rago and Bright traveled around Italy and to Italian restaurants in larger U.S. cities, researching the best pasta-making equipment and the art of regional pizza making.
“We went to Naples to study pizza Napoletana, which has really simple ingredients, but everything is fresh—fresh mozzarella, high-grade pepperoni, and prosciutto,” Rago says.
Osteria Rago’s lunch and dinner menu provide limited selections of pizzas and pastas (including gluten-free options) that will rotate every few weeks, often based on what is fresh and in season. There are also sandwiches, salads, a handful of antipasti on the menu, along with seven Italian wines and a short selection of beers.
Rago says that because “nobody else really opens up at 7 a.m.” in the restaurant’s downtown/campus neighborhood, he’s decided to try serving breakfast at Osteria Rago. The core breakfast menu reflects the lunch and dinner menu—simple and fresh—featuring frittatas, locally made Piccoli Dolci pastries, and several traditional Italian espresso-based drinks made with organic Brown County Coffee.
For more information, visit osteriarago.com.