The Gambino brothers, Nick and Anthony, grew up in the food business. Their father was the deep-dish-wheeling owner of Nancy’s Stuffed Pizza in Chicago.

While heavy-duty pizza may be in their blood, don’t expect to find that Chicago favorite at Cucina Paradiso. Expect thin crust. Expect gourmet. Expect Pear Pizza, a flatbread pie dressed in blue cheese, red onions and sliced fruit.

Four to five items a week change in Cucina’s finely edited Italian menu. The brothers’ goal, since they opened the restaurant in 1995, is to keep their regulars’ mouths watering. There are some house favorites, though, like the tangy Rustic Salad with strawberries and the surprisingly sweet Chicken Pistachio Skewers – an appetizer version, occasionally available, of Chicken Pistachio, a staple on the entrée list. And a choice in portion size is an option with Cucina’s pasta dishes, too.

Cucina also caters, whether at you’re home or at such notable destinations as the Cheney Mansion, the Nineteenth Century Club, Pleasant Home and many venues in Chicago. The Gambinos’ catering business, 2MayToz, became their lifeline for half of 2007, the year that a structural fire at 814 North Blvd. meant they had to close the restaurant for six months. They reopened that December, after replacing almost everything; only the dining room’s concrete floor and brick wall had survived.

Immediately after the fire and during all the months of rebuilding, support from fellow restaurateurs, customers and village firefighters left the brothers with a whole new appreciation for Oak Park. “It brought tears to our eyes how wonderful people were,” says Nick.

Amid that challenging period, the Gambinos themselves didn’t skip a beat in showing community spirit. On Sept. 11, 2007 – as they had for the five previous year marks of the 9-11 attacks – the brothers hosted their Night Serving Others, a fundraiser for local nonprofits. That night, they raised $7,500 for groups that are important to members of Oak Park Local 95 Fire Department.

In the redone space, one spot to toast community good will is the Cucina bar. Specials and specialties are the norm in this dramatic area, but wine and cocktails aren’t the only treats there. The ceiling is incredible. If Cirque du Soleil were to design a bar, this would be it. Watch the billowing puffs of fabric and see what happens.

Kate Pancero

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