Austin’s Eatery Numero 28 Knows Italian Happiness through Food

Stretching along the western Sicilian coast of the Mediterranean Sea, the ancient salt flats are reminders of Phoenician salt-making practices, explained Bernardo Nolfo, proprietor of Austin’s Numero 28 Pizzeria & Vineria. He was speaking of the distinct 2,700-year-old heritage etched in the history of Trapani, a coastal fishing village and his mother’s hometown. It’s this kind of attention to culture and character that you’ll find mirrored in the authentic Osteria he opened last November in Austin’s Second Street District, an eatery steeped in true, authentic Italian tradition.

Like salt, fresh, simple ingredients have stood the test of time in Italian regions like western Sicily, and in much the same way are attributed to the old world charm and authentic flavors guests find at Numero 28. “At an Osteria, you’ll find genuine, original flavors delivered simply across 15 or 20 dishes, but with same attentive service that you would expect at the finest places offering more,” Nolfo said. “Our approach is to deliver the kind of Italian quality characteristic of eateries in small towns, whether set in Sicily or larger regions like Bari or Florence,” he explained. The warm and pleasant atmosphere of Numero 28 is apparent the moment you walk through it’s inviting front patio and into its doors.

For Nolfo, who was born to a Sicilian mother and southern Italian father, the cuisines of Italy carry their own regional specialties, but the quality of preparation comes down to demeanor not just intention. “When someone cooks with love, with joy, and is attentive to preparation you can taste it in the food,” he explained, remembering his own childhood meals. “When my mother’s food was rushed, I tasted it and I would say, ‘mom, what’s wrong today?’,” he laughed.

Characteristic of Italian culture, when you’ve been invited to someone’s home for pizza it means they’re going to roll out fresh dough, and use fresh mozzarella and tomatoes, which is the same attentive quality guests will find at Numero 28. “To successfully work in hospitality, to serve good food, you have to enjoy delighting your guests,” he explained, “Attention to the quality of your ingredients in making even the simplest things is half of the secret to making people happy.”

From the row of seats found under brightly colored umbrellas in a gorgeous patio, to the complements of Italian décor and Mediterranean music playing inside, it’s no doubt that guests to Numero 28 are treated to attentive, authentic Italian dining that brings smiles—one that the local Italian community in Austin comes often to enjoy, a kind of compliment that doesn’t even speak for the delicious food.

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“It’s the places that you know use fresh ingredients daily, that are known to be essential for good cooking, that’s where you’ll find the locals in Italy and Sicily go and eat,” Bernardo explained. Specializing in regional southern Italian and Sicilian dishes, as well as southern Italian-style pizza, the eatery uses a mix of flours and lets its dough rest for at least 36 hours to create its light consistency—the same delicate recipe used in the panino used for its Italian sandwiches. Even something as simple as espresso is served with care—servers are instructed to deliver only a couple at a time because the crema loses its consistency if it sits out too long.

Beginning his restaurant journey in New York City, Nolfo opened his first restaurant in his mid-20s before selling it, and soon after traveling to open Italian restaurants from Miami and Beirut for the Bice Group, a fine dining group from Milan. Over a decade of travel, his favorite part of it all was creating warm gathering places, an affability that eventually led him to want to open something meaningful on his own.

In November 2014, as both a veteran and connoisseur of fine Italian food culture, he and his business partner opened Numero 28 in Austin—a ‘cousin,’ as he described, of a family-owned establishment born in New York City. After having worked with so many people around the world over the years, Bernardo prefers to refer to the establishment of Numero 28 in Austin as a team effort, a family.

Having recently celebrated the first anniversary of Numero 28 in Austin, he smiles when he says, “Everyone here, from Marco to Rudy, Marchino, and Andres, for example, we’re a big family.” Open 7 days a week, walk in one day for lunch or dinner, and you’ll know it’s all true because happiness is at the heart of this little Italian Osteria that will know its way to yours.


Step into Austin Market It’s Italian for the Panino Culture of Florence

The whole idea is ambitious and indicative of heart, but when Al Fini opened his It’s Italian market & cafe last year in east Austin his desire was for his customers to taste all of Italy when they stepped into his shop. Hallmarks of Italy you’ll find are Florentine style sandwiches like those from street markets in Tuscany, imported Italian coffees, specialty foods and cheeses, craft beers, and even hand-selected wine served and even bottled on the premises.

The Market and Cafe is located in East Austin | Facebook

An entire wall of the market is covered in a large, curated collection of over 250 labels of hand-picked sparking, white and red wines from across Italy and Sicily. Everyone who walks in is greeted with café offerings such as draft beer on tap from Rome, a popular Italian espresso from Venice that makes up authentic coffee drinks, but it’s the sandwiches that really put the market experience over the top—authentic, intentionally-crafted Tuscan style panino Italiano.

Prosciutto Panini | It's Italian Market and Cafe in Austin
Prosciutto Panini | It’s Italian Market and Cafe

“The whole idea of the menu is unique in that it’s something no one has done [in Austin]. Our panino is made in Italy by Italians, and we simply put it together,” Al explained, of his Antica style sandwiches that cities like Florence are known for. “You slice the tomatoes fresh, you slice your cheese fresh and don’t sacrifice the quality by pre-slicing. The handcrafting of the sandwich elements is very sensual, true to the Tuscan style of making panino.”

Caponata (Sicilian eggplant stew) | It's Italian Market & Cafe
Caponata Panini (Sicilian eggplant stew) | It’s Italian Market & Cafe

Like the panino makers of Florence which inspired Al when he opened his shop, a lot of time is taken to prepare each sandwich with precision—Florentine style panino is always sliced fresh, its ingredients layered methodically and hand-delivered with a sense of pride by its creator. At the cafe customers get cheese, vegetables and a spread of choice inside of fresh ciabatta in any of 7 sandwiches offered, using traditional Italian recipes and ingredients you won’t find at a regular shop, Al shared.

Panino sandwiches at It’s Italian include Prosciutto, Formaggi (3 Cheese), Salami, Caponata (Sicilian eggplant stew), choice Coppa, Tutti Carni (made with Prosciutto, Coppa, and Salami), and Bresaola, an Italian specialty air dried beef. Each sandwich is topped with real Italian extra virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, Sicilian herbs, and freshly ground sea salt.

It's Italian Market and Cafe in Austin | Facebook
It’s Italian Market & Cafe | Facebook

Everything used in the market’s panino sandwiches can be found sold at the market. “We source the vegetables locally, but the prosciutto, for example, is sliced and packed in Parma, Italy where all prosciutto in Italy comes from, and we use a spicy calabresa [hot cherry pepper and oil] spread which is also imported and on the shelf. It’s quite amazing that people walk in and say ‘Oh wow, I haven’t seen this product anywhere.’”

On the menu at the market, customers can also find all kinds of appetizers and traditional Italian market salads served with fresh Italian bread, as well as aperitif and cocktails, wine by the glass, and authentic Italian coffee drinks like cappuccino and espresso. “It’s heaven to me. On the shelves, customers turn around and they find products from Sicily, and from every region of Italy. It’s very inviting and warm, not a huge place.”

Customers at It's Italian Market and Cafe in Austin
Customers at It’s Italian Market & Cafe | Facebook

In addition to a large selection of popular Italian coffees like Illy and Lavazza, on the shelves of the shop you’ll find a great selection of hand-picked Italian imports like olives, mushrooms, various cheeses and meats, pastas, soups, spices, as well as tomato, sauces and condiments, all essential ingredients to incorporating Italian cuisine at home as they are part of everyday life across Italy and Sicily.

It's Italian sells Italy's popular Illy and Lavazza coffee in Austin
It’s Italian sells Italy’s popular Illy and Lavazza coffee | Facebook

Italian hospitality, whether it’s in Italy or Austin he says is about una passione grande—a great passion for food, wine, cooking, and coffee even at home. To Al, raised in Piedmont, a region in northwestern Italy bordering the Alps and known for its wine, food isn’t just a necessity but an art that wine beautifully complements, like it was for his family.

Imported Italian Cheeses from Italy at Austin's It's Italian Market and Cafe
Imported cheeses from across Italy and Sicily at It’s Italian Market | Facebook

After growing up on a family farm and winery in Italy Al came to Austin in 1979, put himself through school and developed an acumen for the American way of business. After working in restaurants and opening his own (among them Austin’s former Café Roma and Uno 360 Trattoria before selling it in 2015), his Italian market and café is another labor of love.

Italian Wine Tastings at It's Italian Market in Austin
It’s Italian hosts a wine tasting every Friday at 6pm | Facebook

“You’ll find just a few tables so you always feel welcome, like in Italy not just another store,” Al tells us of his hope for customers.  “Everyone is valued, we take customer service to heart more than anything else. The staff, they call people by their first names, they know them and they’re always going to be a part of the family.”

It’s Italian hosts a free wine tasting every Friday at 6 pm. To learn more about the market visit its website.