Chorney-Booth: Buon Giorno refuses to say “Arrivederci,” reopens in nostalgic new location

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For good or bad, the passage of time means change. Calgarians of a certain vintage have seen several standby restaurants disappear over the years. Sometimes we can blame these closures on economic conditions, but often they’re simply a symptom of restaurateurs moving into well-earned retirements. Regardless, the result is the disappearance of iconic long-running restaurants (think of dearly departed places like Silver Inn or the Rose and Crown) that remind us of a time when Calgary was a much smaller city.

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More than once, Buon Giorno – a longstanding Italian restaurant that has hosted many a Calgarian’s first date, anniversary dinner, and business lunch – looked like it too would go the way of so many restaurants of our past. The restaurant, which rebranded as Buon Giorno in 1987 after a decades-long stint as the Prairie Dog Inn, has had a few leadership changes over the years, with late owner Gabriele Battistessa and his brother Giorgio, running it for much of its heyday, passing it to new owners and operators in 2016.

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Buon Giorno has reopened after it closed during the pandemic but in a new location on 17th Avenue S.W. Jim Wells/Postmedia Jim Wells/Postmedia

The restaurant shut its doors, seemingly for good, in 2020 until David Harrison, a Calgary businessman and longtime regular stepped in to purchase his favourite restaurant and save it from extinction. Harrison’s heroism was soon hit with a major roadblock: as with so many old spots in the Beltline, the building that Buon Giorno/ Prairie Dog Inn had operated in for well over half a century was slated for demolition. Buon Giorno had a dedicated owner, but as of April of last year, it no longer had a physical home.

Determined to keep the restaurant he loved alive, Harrison found a spot a few blocks up the street in the former Calgary Jewellery building (that business, has also moved just up the street), which, of course, needed a complete overhaul to become a restaurant. Knowing customers came to Buon Giorno for the nostalgia and the atmosphere as much as they do the food, Harrison set to recreating the mood and look of the original location.

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A mural from the original Buon Giorno restaurant has been recreated at the new location on 17th Avenue S.W. Jim Wells/Postmedia Jim Wells/Postmedia

“I sat down with our design team and spent three months identifying the character pieces of what Buon Giorno was. I wanted the wood, the brick, the checkered tablecloths, the beamed ceilings,” he says. “I wanted to capture the past. I didn’t want to make it shiny and modern. That doesn’t work for this restaurant.”

Miraculously, he got it just right and the new location opened in December last year. The new 100-seat Buon Giorno looks – and this is intended as the highest of compliments – like it’s been there since 1987. All those aforementioned pieces are in place and the designers even recreated the eccentric mural from the original restaurant. Regulars will notice a couple of servers who have been with the restaurant for decades and may even spot Giorgio Battistessa during some services. It’s missing a patio (that’s coming soon) and has the new addition of a private dining room for up to 60 people downstairs, but otherwise, the spirit of the old Buon Giorno lives on.

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A plate of Linguine Vongole at Buon Giorno restaurant. Jim Wells/Postmedia Jim Wells/Postmedia
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A plate of Cozze Basilico at Buon Giorno. Jim Wells/Postmedia Jim Wells/Postmedia

This translates to the food as well. Harrison managed to woo back much of the old kitchen staff to offer a menu that is pretty much identical to that of the old location. A good portion of the current clientele are regulars looking for their favourite calamari ($18.95), saltimbocca alla Romana ($32.95), and spaghetti carbonara ($26.95), and Harrison is happily giving the people what they want.

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Also, to keep things properly old school, note that Buon Giorno does not take online bookings. Customers looking for a reservation – which is necessary because this place gets busy – will need to pick up the phone, just like they did back in 1987.

Buon Giorno is open Monday to Saturday for lunch and dinner and for dinner only on Sundays and is located at 1201 17th Ave. S.W. Call 403-244-5522 to make a reservation. For more information, visit buongiornos.ca.

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The famous fireplace next to the kitchen is a feature at Buon Giorno restaurant. Jim Wells/Postmedia Jim Wells/Postmedia

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In other Italian restaurant news, the space next door to the original Lina’s location on Centre Street is under new ownership and management. Formerly occupied by Cibo (and Scopa before that), the unit is now home to +39 Pizza and Pasta Bar, run by an experienced group of restaurateurs including John and Tony Nicastro (the elder of the two Tony Nicastros in Calgary’s restaurant scene) and Angelo Contrada. If the restaurant’s name doesn’t make immediate sense, “+39” is the country code for an international phone call to Italy.

+39 isn’t a particularly fancy affair – expect solid, well-executed pizzas and pastas, all designed (and priced) to be family-friendly. The kitchen doesn’t stray too far from the Italian classics and there are daily specials to meet customers looking for a deal. Families and other groups should make note of “pasta bowl Sunday,” featuring a $39 bowl of pasta big enough to serve four hungry people.

+39 Pizza and Pasta Bar is located at 2220 Centre St. N.E. and can be reached at 39pizza.ca or 403-276-2030. The restaurant is closed on Mondays and is open for both happy hour and dinner from Tuesday to Sunday.

Elizabeth Chorney-Booth can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Instagram at @elizabooth or sign up for her newsletter at hungrycalgary.substack.com.

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A plate of Scaloppini Con Asparagi at Buon Giorno restaurant on 17th Avenue S.W. Jim Wells/Postmedia Jim Wells/Postmedia

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