RIVER NORTH — In the 1990s, if you wanted to get cozy with a bowlful of cavatelli and a roomful of beautiful people, you went to Centro.
The restaurant at 710 N. Wells St., part of the Rosebud group, was known as much for its well-heeled, boldface-named crowd as its generous portions of hearty Italian food.
"It's the place," Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed told the Chicago Reader in 1991, the year it opened.
It's coming back.
The Rosebud group will close its wine-focused Bar Umbriago at 6 W. Hubbard St. later this month and bring Centro to that space by mid-May, said executive chef Joe Farina.
Many details of the old Centro will be revived or replicated, Farina said — the outside sign, the giant picture of Marlon Brando covering half the wall, the pastas served in copper pans.
Four of Centro's original cooks will be back in the kitchen. Even the phone number will be the same — "312-988-7775," said Farina, not skipping a beat.
This is a homecoming for Farina, too. He was Rosebud's corporate chef for 12 years, beginning in 1996. His more recent ventures included Cafe Bionda in the South Loop and the now shuttered Salatino's in Little Italy.
"We wanted to get back to what we know best, and we know Rosebud food and we know people love Rosebud food," said Farina of Centro's comeback, which coincides with the redevelopment of the now-closed Rosebud Trattoria.
The new Centro menu will look much like the old, with steaks, chops, bone-in chicken dishes (Vesuvio, Cacciatore, Velasco) and sides such as escarole and beans, rapini and polenta. There will be a ribeye and portherhouse for two.
Pastas, meant to be shared, will include ravioli, cavatelli, fettucine Alfredo with ricotta and crab and Green Noodles Al Forno, a Centro specialty of spinach fettucine in a buttery, Parmesan broth, baked under a blanket of ricotta salata.
The restaurant will offer Italian red and white wines and Prosecco on tap, and cocktails with pineapple-infused vodka, another Centro touch, Farina said.
Containers of whole, fresh pineapples soaking in vodka sat on the back of the bar at the old spot, something other restaurants around town later copied, said Yvonne Contreras, a longtime Rosebud employee and Centro's manager near the end of its 10-year run.
"But mostly, there were bottles of Cristal and Dom Perignon on every table," she said.
The space at Hubbard and State will seat more than the original — 165 seats inside, 24 at the bar, another 25 outside. And windows will open onto Hubbard Street, so people-watching should be a breeze, just like the old days.