Little Nonni’s Italian Kitchen
Proof that good things are Possible!
written by The Healing Chef (Christiane Marshall)
Tucked in a little corner of Barlow is one of the most cozy restaurants I’ve ever been to. It’s housed inside the historic Mill Branch Covered Bridge! Although this makes it quite seasonal, they have plans to open a soup shack nearby during colder months.
The menu is simple, delicious and authentically Italian. Haldin Tessum and his wife Kelly opened the restaurant at the beginning of June, in the middle of a pandemic. On the same weekend, Roseland Coffee down the street opened. There’s a lot we can say about 2020, and one positive note is that it is a time of unusual beginnings. Little Nonni’s is one of those.
Haldin said he developed his culinary skills at home, from his Italian mother. “Nonni” is Italian for grandmother. “Heritage can be found in the kitchen” he told me. “It’s knowledge that is chosen.” Although he lives in Vienna, WV, he grew up in Barlow. He said that opening Little Nonni’s is “like coming home.”
For three years before opening the restaurant, they were providing meals at the Barlow Fair and the Christmas Village Fair.
Due to the pandemic, Haldin was without work for the first time in his life. He worked for Applebees as a bartender for 15 years before losing his job. COVID19 brought many changes to his family. Since they were together all the time, including meals, he decided that saying Grace at dinner was a way for his daughter to practice public speaking. One day she said she was thankful for the pandemic because the family spent more time together. The seeds for Little Nonni’s was planted at the table. Haldin told me they wanted to “bring the table back.” He didn’t want to just buy a food truck. “It’s the bartender in me.” The conversations at the family table, the bar, a table to sit at, and family were key to the genesis of his idea.
Haldin and Kelly were driving through Barlow one day when they saw a little shack near the bridge. The idea for the restaurant was born in a moment – the way ideas happen for entrepreneurs! Those of us who think this way are used to seeing people shake their heads and give “realistic” advice during the nanosecond after we speak the idea out loud – sometimes we speak this to ourselves. If we resist, that is when we see the beginning of something new take shape. That was their experience. I’m thrilled they pushed past that because my experience at Little Nonni’s was sweet. It’s like going to Sunday dinner at my parents’. Children can run and play in the field after finishing their meals while their parents enjoy conversation on the bridge while watching their children.
While I ate a scrumptious meal, felt a gentle breeze and had conversations, I noticed that children had drawn pictures on the wood floor with chalk. I raised a large family, so this felt very much like home for me. Instead of a coloring page and crayons, kids can use chalk on the floor and create their own ideas – just like Nonni’s is an original idea.
On this day, three cooks prepared meals – Kelly, Haldin and his mom – known as Nonni. They gave me a few things to taste and everything was delicious and had a wonderful uniqueness to the flavor. I suspect the secret ingredient was love. I can’t report on meat since I don’t eat it. Anything there can be made vegetarian or vegan, and they are fine with someone bringing their own vegan cheese. The reason they are so open to alternative styles of eating is that Nonni is a survivor of cancer. She told me the first two chemo treatments were killing her faster than the cancer, so in discussion with her oncologist, she suggested the Forks over Knives diet (vegan, no refined foods). Her oncologist agreed, and as a result, she went into remission and has remained so for many years.
If you like salad, try the Poppy Slaw Salad, with a base of baby kale, cabbage with craisins and mandarin oranges and a yummy dressing. The Bruschetta Sandwich is made with fresh basil. From the table, I can see a basket brimming with fresh basil. The Spinach Artichoke Flatbread is perfect and the Alfredo sauce is the best! On this day the special was Tortellini Alfredo. I did not order this, but got a taste of the sauce. They buy tomatoes and peppers from Wittens Farm and they grow their own organic parsley and basil. The paper menu stays the same, but there is always a special on the chalkboard.
I love to visit unique restaurants that are not a franchise. This one is a gem.
Why are they willing to cook special for you if you’re vegetarian or vegan? “We want to feed people like we feed our family” Haldin told me. I can see that goal has been accomplished. Better visit soon because it is open air and won’t be serving during a blizzard! I’ll keep everyone posted about the soup shack.
Note: They have a new location, open year round. Find them on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NonnisLittleItalianKitchen
IMPORTANT DETAILS: They are only open Friday through Monday. Cash only because they don’t have internet connection. Social distancing guidelines are followed.
CAREER PATH – This will be a new feature of Marietta and Beyond. We think it’s a good idea to show youth how this really works. Haldin Tessum, Italian chef– Went to vocational school to become an autobody mechanic, became a bartender, then opened a unique restaurant inside a covered bridge