For many, food is a family affair.
Whether gathering the family around the dinner table at home or at your favorite restaurant or helping your mother or father in the kitchen as they make your favorite recipe, food has a way of bringing families together.
The same holds true for restauranteurs, where children are brought in to the family business at a young age in hopes that they will someday carry on their parents’ legacy.
In the case of the Nonno Alby’s Brick Oven Pizza, it means proud parents watching their children take what they have learned and create something uniquely their own.
Opened in 2013, Nonno Alby’s occupies the original G.N.A. Ristorante property in West Reading. The second generation of the Grande family named the restaurant for their father Alby, who still oversees operations at G.N.A., now located just a few blocks east.
While Nonno Alby’s and G.N.A. have a family connection, the two restaurants are vastly different. While G.N.A. offers a fairly expansive menu of Italian dinners, sandwiches and pizza, Nonno Alby’s is all about pizza and burgers.
Walking through the front door, you can see the heat glowing from the brick oven behind the bar at the far end of the dining room. Unfortunatley we lost site of the glowing coals once we were seated on the opposite side of the room divider.
The only deviation from burgers and pizza is found in the appetizers, mostly sharable salads, but a sign at the front door advertised the addition of baked wings to the menu. Our waittress read off the available flavors and suggested honey BBQ (which is not actually on the menu, but honey and BBQ are, and the two are easily mixed). It did not take much to sell us on it so a few minutes later we had a plate of 10 wings in front of us.
Served on a plate with mixed vegetables and a cup of ranch (bleu cheese is also available, if you are so inclined), the wings were glistening with the honey-infused glaze.
Baking them gave them a nice crisp, but not as much as if they were fried. The honey came through more than the barbecue sauce, giving them a nice sweet flavor.
The wings were just a precursor to the pizza. While most pizza places offer small and large pies, Nonno Alby’s only serves individual 12″ pies, each with its own signature toppings, many of which are imported from Italy.
My eye did not have to travel far to find my pizza of choice as the namesake Nonno Alby’s pizza was at the top of the list. The Nonno Alby’s is topped with imported San Marazano tomato, buffalo mozzarella, fresh Italian sausage, sauteed rapini (broccoli raub) and red pepper flakes.
Brick oven pizza has a crispier crust than traditional pies. Slices are rigid so you don’t have to worry about the toppings sliding off as it sags. Every bite included a healthy helping of toppings that hit on a wide range of flavor profiles. Sweet ground tomatoes, mild heat from the ground sausage and buffalo mozzarella, and the slightly bitter rapini came together for a memorable pizza.
In the seat next to me, Julie had ordered something completely different: the Bianca (white) pizza. Her pie was topped with baby arugula, buffalo mozzarella, proscuitto di Parma, shaved Parmigiano Reggiano and extra virgin olive oil.
As much as I enjoyed my own pie, hers may have been even better. I have never been a fan of white pizza, but I think that’s because it usually comes sans toppings. This was something completely different. The proscuitto, and even the parmesan, gave it a salty flavor while the arugula leaves helped to tone it down just enough that instead of becoming overpowering, it was near perfect.
In hindsight, we did not need to order so much food. Though we certainly got our money’s worth for $40, we would have been fine skipping the wings, or we could have justed ordered a single pizza with the wings and been fine. As it was, Julie took home two slices while I cleaned my plate but probably shouldn’t have.
Nonno Alby’s continues a family tradition of serving great food in Berks County.
If I were Alby, I would be proud to have my name attached to the restaurant.
Food: Very Good
Nonno Alby’s Brick Oven Pizza
701 Penn Ave
West Reading, PA 19611