NicoBella’s is more than a family-run eatery that offers modern diner food and all-day breakfast. Celebrating its first anniversary, the restaurant is a testament to chef-owner Daniel Crenca’s lifelong passion for cooking. He shares with us what inspired him to get back in the kitchen, the one ingredient he cannot live without and the person that has influenced him most as a chef.
Tell us about your life in the culinary world before you opened NicoBella’s.
I began working at Railroad Deli, an all-night breakfast place, 36 years ago. Thirty-five years ago, I was at Alfredo’s on Thayer Street, and 34 years ago I became one of the youngest guys trained at Capriccio’s when I was 18. I was in multiple restaurants for 20 years. I ended up owning a breakfast place on Chalkstone Avenue, the Castle Spa, and I consulted and worked with other restaurants like Brewed Awakenings and Chardonnay’s in Seekonk. Then I got out of the business 20 years ago and started doing project management, I developed a real estate company, became a minister and developed 150 recovery beds in Rhode Island.
Then a year ago my brother, who is the director and founder of AS220, gave me a call. A friend of his was thinking of a restaurant downtown and thought I might be interested. It woke up the sleeping dog. Now, I’ve been able to create a culmination of my experience to create food better than a regular diner but still with a very simple menu.
What inspired you to create NicoBella’s concept?
There’s nothing more important to me than my family. NicoBella’s is a family-based and family-run organization. It’s named after my daughters, Nicolina and Arabella. My daughter is here waitressing, my wife works here and my brother and sister-in-law’s artwork – Umberto Crenca and Susan Clausen – is on the walls.
There’s a lot of competition in Providence for Italian food. What makes your concept different?
What makes us unique, beyond the level of Italian food, is that we have breakfast all day downtown, seven days a week, 365 days a year. So we are more of a breakfast, lunch and dinner restaurant with an Italian flair. I don’t necessarily categorize us as strictly an Italian restaurant. It’s more of a restaurant run by a guy who’s Italian. And my experience goes back to some of the best Italian chefs that Providence has ever seen including Nino D’Urso, the original chef from Capriccio’s.
What are some must-try items on NicoBella’s menu?
For breakfast, the most popular items include the Daniel Special, which is a sausage gravy made with Fred-Rick veal sausage and Italian sausage with two poached eggs over it, and our three-egg omelettes. For lunch, it’s the chicken Parmesan sandwich, which is breaded in-house daily. And for dinner it’s the homemade gnocchi, which is an original recipe that was taught to me from Capriccio’s over 30 years ago, and our lasagna, which is a handmade lasagna that won the pasta challenge in Providence back in the ‘80s.
What one ingredient could you not live without?
What’s the one thing that inspired you to be a chef?
One thing I can say is it wasn’t a meal that inspired me to be a chef, but a person. There’s been no greater inspiration to me in my young life than Julia Child. As corny as that sounds, it’s the truth. I watched every single show about 12 inches from the TV and you couldn’t peel me away. And then my most profound experience that gave me the respect for this business that I had – and still have – was working at Capriccio’s for Vinny and Nino. Their influence on my life really inspired me to respect this business and embrace it for more than just a job.
NicoBella’s Family Restaurant
74 Dorrance Street