As of today, the family traditions of DiTondo’s Restaurant continue on. For a while, it didn’t seem as if that would be so, but thanks to the efforts of Rita DiTondo and her husband, Fabio Consonni, Buffalonians will be able to enjoy the next chapter in the history of the beloved restaurant.
Not only is there a great backstory to the restaurant, which was initially opened in 1904 by Rita’s great-grandfather, Sebastiano DiTondo, there’s also ‘a more’ current love story behind the scenes, which made it all possible. You see, Rita met Fabio when they were living in Milan. Rita was a sommelier at the restaurant where Fabio was sous cheffing. The two fell in love, and eventually moved to NYC, back to Italy, and then, most recently, were living in Seattle.
“We were going to open a restaurant in Seattle,” explained Rita. “But when the family restaurant in Buffalo closed, and the building went up for sale, we realized that there was an opportunity to keep it in the family, while carrying on the legacy. We couldn’t pass up on owning a multigenerational business. So we moved to Buffalo, as fourth-generation ownership.”
Rita and her father, John DiTondo, purchased the building in 2019 from John’s cousin, Rosemary and her husband, Alan Rohloff, after the Rohloffs retired.
Moving forward, the diner experience at the restaurant will be an elevated one, while paying respects to roots of the establishment. It starts with the renaming of the establishment, to – simply – DiTondo.
The ambiance and the menu reflect a similar simplicity.
First off, I must say that the interior of DiTondo is stunning. Rita and Fabio started the makeover by removing the drop ceiling, knocking down a central wall (exposing the beautiful, original support columns), uncovering the boarded-up transom windows, exposing as much brick as possible… all of the things that go hand-in-hand with a Preservation 101 manual.
The result? A reimagined, reinvigorated, breathtaking example of an eatery that would feel right at home in Brooklyn or Milan.
Once the place was gutted, Rita and Fabio got to work with the additions. They restored the original bar (with a new countertop), added attractive sound dampening ceiling tiles, opened up the kitchen, and salvaged as much of the architectural detail that they could. To top it off, they recreated the look of the original facade of the building, aided by a historic photograph. How cool is that?
As for the food, Fabio – a classically trained Italian chef – is serving up (starting today) a lunch menu that pays homage to his hometown. He grew up in the periphery of Milan, with roots in both northern and southern Italy.
His work travels have taken him to NYC, where he worked with Chef Michael Anthony at Gramercy Tavern, before returning to Italy to be the executive chef at the five-star Hotel Bella Riva in Gardone Riviera.
“I like to cook what I like to eat,” said Fabio, who explained that he is serving up smaller portion plates of wholesome comfort food, inspired by recipes that have been passed down from family members for generations.
Fabio received his diploma from Amerigo Vespucci Culinary Institute and spent his formative years working under chefs in both Italy and Paris.
The reason for the smaller portion plates is that in Italy, these types of meals are meant to be experiences, rather than chow down sessions. Therefore, customers are invited to enjoy, say, a cup of coffee, a glass of wine, crespelle, zuppa, some ‘real’ focaccia (probably the best in Buffalo – I tried it, and it’s next level), a pasta plate, and dolci.
Fabio reminded me that when it comes to great cooking, less is more. You want the ingredients to shine, like the dry or the fresh pastas, he told me. Every day, he is making some fresh homemade pastas that he feels are the star attractions. Plus, the pesto is authentic, and the lasagna bolognese is prepared using bechamel, not ricotta.
The wine list highlights Italian wines from small family-run wineries with a focus on sustainability and traditional grape varieties.
Rita, who received her Masters from the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Piedmont, worked for the winery Tenuta Villa Crespia in Franciacorta and was Head Sommelier at the Relaise & Chateaux Villa Fiordaliso on Lake Garda, is curating the exceptional wine list, to accompany Fabio’s seasonal dishes.
If you’re looking for a lunchtime bar & bottega, with a classic menu that revolves around a mix of fresh and dry pastas, where the pasta specials are made-to-order, and scratch means scratch, I think I’ve found the perfect place that checks all of the boxes.
The restaurant is considered fast casual, with a full bar. Orders are placed at the cashier counter, where guests are given numbers (tickets) for their tables. The food and drink is delivered to the tables. The bar is “traditional Italian,” with no bar stools. People are welcome to stand and chat, while they are sipping a prosecco or espresso… when in Rome!
I have a feeling that DiTondo will become an overnight sensation. Therefore, it’s good to know that there’s plenty of seating for 60 guests, with an additional 30 seats on the dog-friendly patio.
The transformation of Ditondo is representational of the rebirth of the city of Buffalo. The story has it all. A family returning to its roots to save a small business. The salvation of a stunning building. An elevated classic Italian menu that a great-grandfather would be proud of. A heralded chef from Milan. An accomplished world-traveled sommelier. And a prideful name that has stood the test of time.
What more can you ask for?