In the tidy, snug dining room where Madison Park Café lived for 30 years, Café Parco now thrives (all those displaced Sostanza fans needed somewhere to go for the saucy Italian food they love). Parco’s chef and owner, Celinda Norton, is a pro; she’s owned eight restaurants, so she knows well the flavors—garlic, butter, meats braised ’til tender—that her customers are yearning for.
Norton’s cooking is big-boned, rich and indulgent; the sort of Italian food many of us first fell in love with, not the spare, restrained Italian food we’ve come to adore in recent years. Like the menu, the room, with its tabletop lamps and wine-red draperies, has a feeling of being stuck in time. Maybe that’s what I like about it: It reminds me of the special-occasion restaurants of my suburban youth. I like the grilled romaine salad ($12), generous enough to share, dotted with pancetta and croutons. I enjoyed the braised chicken chunks ($20) over white beans in delicious red wine gravy, and happily devoured the clams ($12) with hunks of sausage and grilled bread slick with olive oil.
Even the ham-handed tradition of bringing a tray with gooey desserts to the table charmed me. It may not be trendy—there’s neither exposed ductwork nor a cement floor in sight. Instead, Café Parco brings to mind the warm embrace of an Italian-American grandma, and there’s comfort in that.
Brunch Sat.–Sun., dinner nightly. Madison Park, 1807 42nd Ave. E; 206.328.4757; cafeparco.com $$