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Milton restaurant draws a crowd

Novara investor Jordan Knight of New Kids on the Block (photo by DeBee Tlumacki for Boston Globe)

Novara investor Jordan Knight of New Kids on the Block (photo by DeBee Tlumacki for Boston Globe)


The open, V-shaped, stainless steel kitchen in the rear of Novara looks like the crowded prow of a ship forging the way forward. At the helm, overseeing six to eight cooks, is executive chef Tony DiRienzo, who performs the same role at Abby Park, two doors up the street. A ’94 graduate of Johnson & Wales University, DiRienzo cut his teeth cooking under various Boston chefs, including Lydia Shire. With subsequent experience as an executive chef at several area restaurants, DiRienzo consulted on the design of Abby Park in 2009, and subsequently took the lead on Novara.


Originally the home of the old Milton Cinema movie theater in East Milton Square, the space is a soaring, open rectangle with 23-foot ceilings (as tall as a two-story house). The 170-seat restaurant is owned by the crew from Abby Park, along with a few other investors, including Jordan Knight of New Kids on the Block. Designed to look like an outdoor Italian piazza, the space has stone finishes, rustic sconces, street lamp-inspired lighting, polished concrete floors, and a marble bar. One trompe l’oeil wall is painted to look like the exterior of a building, complete with windows from which Juliet might call out to Romeo below. Two massive TVs at the bar are dwarfed by a 163-inch flat screen, high above the kitchen. And in the warm months, a wall of glass doors will open onto a small outdoor patio (the better to get away from the TVs)!


On three recent visits, the restaurant was completely packed with couples, old and young, groups of friends, and families. Novara was built for a crowd, and a full house makes it a lively, exciting place to be.

I love small menus, and this one is a great size with 10 appetizers, a handful of salads and sides, several homemade pastas, five or six mains, and a half-dozen pizzas. Things are still evolving as the kitchen learns what’s working best: New dishes appear, others disappear, and still others get modified. DiRienzo’s flavors are robust. Among the early best bets: the Tuscan white bean soup ($8) with crispy pancetta, topped with wilted kale, and the burrata appetizer ($13) — a nicely-sourced, creamy ball served amid slices of tomatoes, basil, and balsamic. You can also enjoy the burrata sliced atop the pizza Margherita ($15, pictured), which, like all Novara’s pizzas, is a wonderful, thin, nicely-charred pie. If, like us, you had a pizza here in January with a crust as hard as a cracker, try again: The kitchen was getting used to its pizza oven. Several of the pizzas can be ordered gluten-free ($18), which are never great anywhere but Novara’s was still ever so welcome by our gluten-free friend. DiRienzo’s red sauce — sampled with the olive oil and Parmesan that come with the crusty house bread — is very, very good. It also makes the chicken Parmesan meatball appetizer ($11) delicious.

The crispy-skinned brazino ($29), now gone from the menu, was two fantastic filets served with crushed potatoes in a tomato lemon cream sauce with truffled arugula. In its place is a good but lesser fish dish: salmon piccata ($25), served with baby potatoes and roasted red pepper pesto. The porchetta ($25) is a confusing spiral slice of slow-roasted pork loin with pork belly, and the delicious beef tenderloin ($32) comes with leek Gorgonzola mashed potatoes and a meaty mushroom ragout. I love DiRienzo on principle for putting so much garlic in the saltimbocca sandwich ($15), but I might be alone on that one. Never mind, have a delicious dark chocolate mousse ($8) or an affogato ($7) for dessert, wend your way through the happy crowd, and call it a night.

Novara, 556 Adams St., Milton, 617-696-8400,