STREETERVILLE — Brandon Wolff's twang is pure Texas, but his culinary style — seasonal, local, farmer-centric — is out of the Italian playbook.
The Fort Worth native is Coco Pazzo owner Jack Weiss' pick to head the kitchen at Tre Soldi, his Roman-style restaurant in the works at 212 E. Ohio St.
The trattoria, opening in early June, will focus on the food of Rome and the surrounding Lazio region, which was, until recently, foreign to Wolff. He's never been to Rome, or Italy for that matter.
"I've been doing a lot of reading," said Wolff, who is developing the menu with Coco Pazzo executive chef Federico Comacchio. "It's been a great learning experience for me."
But his Italian approach in the kitchen — an emphasis on seasonality and reliance on farmers — goes back more than a decade, to the five years he spent working in Milwaukee under mentor Paul Bartolotta. He worked closely with farmers from the Madison, Wis., area during that time, and brought that mentality to his next job at Osteria Via Stato in River North.
For his Tre Soldi interview, Wolff cooked braised oxtail and pasta all'Amatriciana, two very traditional Roman dishes. Those and other meats, seafood and handmade pastas will be on the menu at Tre Soldi, along with thin pizzas in the Roman tradition, five to six varieties daily, and cured meats and cheeses.
"Vegetables are really big in the Lazio region, so we're going to do an antipasti table" similar to what diners see at Coco Pazzo in River North and its Streeterville sibling, Coco Pazzo Cafe, Wolff said. One offering will be a twice-fried artichoke, a humble dish with roots in Rome's Jewish ghetto.
Wolff is close with Illinois farmers Nick Nichols and Louis Slagel and Mick Klug of St. Joseph, Mich. A recent delivery of meat from Slagel had Wolff brainstorming more menu ideas. "Pork is his main commodity, but he's got some nice rabbits, chickens and lamb," he said.
Wolff and Comacchio also are working on a bar menu to draw a later crowd looking for a few drinks and snacks as opposed to a full meal.
Construction inside the space, a former Pompei Pizza, started last week. When it's done, murals of Rome's famous Trevi Fountain, the inspiration for the restaurant's name, which means "three coins," will adorn the walls. Even a Texan might feel at home.