It was a gloomy, wet afternoon when I stopped by Tino’s Cucina in the Fleetwood neighborhood of Mount Vernon. But as soon as I stepped into the restaurant, there stood a man at the bar with a warm, bright smile.
Many in the area know of Charlie Firneno, a 66-year-old Bronxite who’s been serving drinks at 546 Gramatan Avenue for more than a decade. He’s so popular, that when the previous restaurant closed and Tino’s was readying to open around Thanksgiving 2016, patrons reached out to owner Ryan Tarantino and told him to hire Charlie.
“We joke that Charlie came with the lease,” Tarantino said. “We befriended each other very quickly.”
One of the American touches to the menu: mac and cheese made with Guinness.
â€‹Firneno was a patron when the space was known as Gina Marie’s, and started bartending when it was Ristorante Buona Sera. “The best thing about bartending are the people that you’ve known for a long time who keep coming in for you,” he says. “It’s kind of like not working anymore; you’re hanging out with friends, and they meet new people.”
Sure enough, the after-work crowd started trickling in, yelling “Hi, Charlie!” right at the door.
Tino’s Cucina serves a modest cocktail, beer and wine menu. The food is described as modern, authentic Italian cuisine, but as the restaurant approaches two years, some American touches have slowly been added.
Charlie Firneno prepares a drink at Tino’s Cucina. He’s a customer favorite, aside from the food and drinks.
Tarantino, 42, wanted Tino’s to reflect his home and how he grew up: everything is centered on the kitchen. The back of the bar looks like a brick oven. In fact, Tino’s looks like a cozy restaurant plucked out of Manhattan and dropped in the burbs.
The sangria: though small, packs a punch and is a hit even when it’s not Sunday brunch.
“Tino’s is a concept I’ve always wanted to do because it’s food I’ve grown up with,” Tarantino said, who has 26 years of hospitality experience.
Everything is fresh and made-to-order; you will not find a freezer or microwave in the kitchen. While Tarantino’s family is from Umbria, between Florence and Rome, the Amalfi Coast, his favorite part of Italy, is the major influencer on the menu.
Describing “authentic Italian,” Tarantino says that it’s not heavy and it’s fresh. “Things are not caked on with a ton of cheese or oil,” he said. “You don’t get the itis, and you’re not knocked out a few minutes later.”
There is live jazz every Friday, and a Sunday brunch at noon. The bar and a few tables are downstairs, with more seating upstairs. The décor is very white and minimalistic, but you really are there for some delicious food and drink, and maybe some small talk with Charlie.
A serving of chicken parmigiana.
546 Gramatan Ave
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