By YP Contributor

A casual Italian experience

Drawing on inspiration from the flavours, culture and geography of Northern Italy, Chris McKinnon (of Cilantro) and his partners Keith Luce (formerly of Corbeaux Bakery on 17th Avenue) and Tony Migliarese (of Proof Cocktail Bar) developed an Italian dining experience that offers more than the traditional spaghetti and meatballs. The restaurant that emerged in May 2017 out of their collective efforts was Tavernetta,  which opened near Bridgeland – Calgary’s historical Little Italy.

“We found there were a lot of comparisons between southern Alberta and the northern part of Italy – it’s a mountainous region north of Rome, near the border of Austria and Switzerland,” Chris says. “You see game meats, fishing, those kinds of things. And a lot of the food is the same style as you’d find here in the foothills of Alberta.”

All three partners brought different types of restaurant experience to the project, working together to come up with several versions of what would eventually become Tavernetta’s menu. Along with chef Josh Cocca, they settled on a range of flavours that would inspire their signature dishes – including a unique gluten- and pork-free meatball, charcoal-grilled calamari with horseradish cream and homemade ricotta gnocci with a house-made walnut pesto. “We really wanted to create a more casual atmosphere, a tavern where you could come and order a litre of house wine while you enjoy some little bites – or, where you could have a whole meal of delicious homemade pasta,” Chris says. “The response has been amazing, the neighbourhood has found us and they’re really enjoying how we’re using the space.”

We really wanted to create a more casual atmosphere, a tavern where you could come and order a litre of house wine while you enjoy some little bites – or, where you could have a whole meal of delicious homemade pasta. - Chris McKinnon, co-owner
Tavernetta serves up delicious homemade pasta as well as lighter fare.
Tavernetta's menu includes appetizer plates as well as full dishes of homemade Italian fare. Photo by Jessi Gowan
Tavernetta co-owner McKinnon opened the restaurant along with a few other Calgary restaurant veterans.
Chris McKinnon opened Tavernetta in May 2017 with the help of partners Keith Luce and Tony Migliarese. Photo by Jessi Gowan

Big changes

Tavernetta took over a small space along Edmonton Trail that had previously housed a Japanese restaurant. But the conversion of the space presented a bit of a challenge, Chris admits, since the kitchen of the century-old house is located in an open space in the middle of the dining room.

“We really had to gear our menu around the physical state of the kitchen,” he says, “creating a menu that was easy to execute, tasty and keep to our concept – but that would be logistically possible.”

The main floor saw the biggest change – new paint, new floors, new furniture and even the addition of a cocktail bar on the side. The kitchen was also rebuilt, Chris explains, to make the space more user-friendly and a dishwasher was brought in for the prep area downstairs. Today, Tavernetta's main floor serves as a cozy, intimate space for the perfect Italian-style family dinner.

Tavernetta has room for 60 diners in its cozy, intimate dining room.
The interior of Tavernetta is cozy and welcoming, with room for diners to gather and relax with house wine by the litre. Photo by Jessi Gowan
Tavernetta's backyard is the perfect spot to get in a game of bocce or just bask in the sun.
Tavernetta's outdoor space is the ideal spot for game of bocce, or perhaps a delicious afternoon treat. Photo by Jessi Gowan

A part of the community

Next to the restaurant was a strip of open space that Chris says was never really used by the previous tenants. But to Chris and his partners, the grassy area seemed like the perfect lawn for the Italian game of Bocce ball. “It’s really trendy right now, and it’s a great drinking game – have a beer, throw a ball and relax,” he says. “Italian culture takes it pretty seriously, but we just wanted something where you can come with your friends, enjoy some cocktails and have fun in that space.”

This relaxed atmosphere – full of refreshing drinks and delicious food – was exactly what Chris and his partners were hoping to achieve with Tavernetta,  right from the very beginning. And according to Chris, it’s exactly what the community was looking for. “The people here are very loyal, very supportive, and the cultural aspect of what we’re trying to do is really important to them,” he says. “It’s a bit of an up-and-coming neighborhood, with lots of cool little spots to find. And we want to be one of them.”

Tavernetta has been open since May 2017 in a century-old house on Edmonton Trail.
Located along Edmonton Trail, Tavernetta is a great place to stop for a cocktail or for dinner, or to check out the restaurant's backyard patio – one of the best in the city. Photo by Jessi Gowan
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