Ciao, Chio! New Italian eatery goes carb-core on Columbia Street

Ciao, Chio! New Italian eatery goes carb-core on Columbia Street
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

You won’t find anything resembling chicken parmesan in Italy — or on the menu at a new Italian eatery in the Columbia Street Waterfront District.

The new eatery Chio eschews meat-heavy Americanized Italian cuisine for what many Italian diners love most — pasta.

“We’re focused on authentic regional Italian cuisine,” said Alex McWilliams, chef at the new eatery Chio. “[We serve] no cliches of the typical Italian-American cuisine you see, like chicken marsala, picattas, oversized veal chops, and a lot of those things that people associate with Italian food that actually don’t exist in Italy.”

The menu at Chio spotlights the carbs that American eaters correctly associate with Italian cuisine in new, exciting ways that focus on deepening the flavor profiles of the food rather than relying on heaping portions of seasoned meats to carry the bulk of the taste.

In other words, while this food isn’t necessarily Atkins-friendly, you won’t feel like you need to hibernate the second you get home.

Take their Sardinian flatbreads, for instance. McWilliams boasts that they’re very thin and crisp, and that they use a little bit of grano arose, — a burned wheat flour that originated in the Italian region of Puglia — to bring out a depth of flavor that belies the thinness of the bread.

Carb-core: Alex McWilliams is the owner and chef at the new Chio, an Italian restaurant that focuses on flavorful pastas over the typical chicken parm.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

That the crunch of the flatbreads fill your mouth with flavor even as the bread itself lilts against your tongue is emblematic of their approach to cooking and dining: big delivery in small packages.

But it’s the stuzzichini that keeps people coming back, according to McWilliams. Think of stuzzichini as the Italian approach to tapas, those all-too-popular little bites of Spanish food that make more of an impact on your tongue (and your wallet, if you’re not careful) than they do on your stomach. Of them, the charred octopus is the most popular item. It comes served with fingerling potatoes and dried ceriginola olives for a perfectly balanced bite.

It’s the kind of offering not seen on enough Italian menus, perhaps because of its small size or because its better known cousin — fried calimari — has more of a following among American consumers.

But this delicate dish is proof alone that McWilliams is making good on his mission to correct how Americans look at Italian food. And in this health-conscious, carb-phobic food moment, those corrections couldn’t be more welcome.

Chio [117 Columbia St. at Kane Street, (718) 237–4300, chio-restaurant.com] Sun., Tues.–Thurs., 5 pm–10 pm, Fri., Sat. 5 pm–11pm. Closed Mon.

Corner store: Chio is a new Italian offering in the Columbia Street Waterfront District.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham