Anna Maria Pasteria—30 Years Strong
By Patrick Butler
Anna Maria Piccolini was maybe six or seven years old when she cooked her first meal – beans and pasta – for her family back in Italy.
“That’s a very poor dish, but as long as we filled our stomachs, that was what counted,” she recalled. Italy, like the rest of Europe, was still recovering from World War II.
But postwar privation didn’t keep everyone in her family from learning some kind of trade as their father followed his job through postwar Germany, and as far as Argentina and Venezuela. Anna Maria and her sister headed for Chicago where Anna Maria’s sister enrolled in Roosevelt University and Anna became a beautician. Later, Anna Maria started a restaurant.
When “Anna Maria Pasteria” prospered, “I eventually decided this was really where I belonged,” she said, pointing to the kitchen in the restaurant she’s been running for nearly 30 years, in what had been a shuttered gay bathhouse at 4400 N. Clark St.
Ironically, that beans and pasta meal she served to her family years ago has since become something of an Italian delicacy.
While Anna Maria says her place specializes in “modern and traditional Italian specialties, the important things haven’t changed much, she insists. “We usually do traditional foods like we knew in Italy” – Pescatora, a traditional fish dish, Chicken Vesuvio and spaghetti and meatballs, Chicken Picatta, lasagna, and lamb chops and potatoes, just to name a few.
“Everything is fresh here. And we serve food to fill the stomach. Not like some of the fancier places today that that give you a little bit and charge a lot,” she said.
And the prices haven’t changed all that much over the years, she added.
What has changed has been Ana Maria’s adoption of Grubhub as another way of serving her customers. And periodic live entertainment by jazz stylist Melodie Magnuson.
At an age when many people start thinking of retirement, Anna Maria says she’s far from ready to hang up her apron and skillet.
“The restaurant business, if you really love it, is a little like being in jail with the door always open,” she said, adding “you can always leave, but who wants to?”
But Anna Maria added that if she were to make any big life changes, she’d like to pass on her culinary wisdom to the next generation.
“I’d like to teach kids what I’d learned as a young person, sewing and cooking. Teach them how to make food that’s simple and good.
“I only open for business at 5 p.m. I could start a cooking school for young kids. Babysit them and teach them something they could use later. Maybe even teach them a little Italian.”
Anna Maria Pasteria is located at 4400 N. Clark St. and is open Monday-Thursday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Saturday, 4 p,m, to 11 p.m.; and Sunday 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Call 773-506-2662.