In 1984 Joe Bruno came up from Brooklyn to open his pasta store/restaurant “Pasta Nostra” on Washington Street in the newly restored SoNo district of Norwalk, CT. The first chef/restaurateur to pioneer the old neighborhood, an area the locals shunned for its run-down condition, Joe’s cooking attracted the attention of foodies and critics alike and in the process helped turn Washington Street into what it is today. In 1985 the New York Times gave Pasta Nostra such a glowing review there were lines in the winter street for lunch, the only meal he served at the time. Later, after dinner was added to the menu, the Times returned and, recognizing the excellence of Joe’s cooking, awarded him three stars. Food writers Jane and Michael Stern lauded the place with The Hartford Courant’s highest rating; Cook’s magazine and Yankee magazine, among others, did feature articles on Joe, and finally the New York Times returned yet again and did a half-page spread about Chef Joe Bruno in the food section of the national edition of the Times. The place was rockin.’
Though it was good for business Joe was not comfortable with fame and avoided additional press for many years. In 2000 Martha Stewart enticed him into a full half-hour TV spot on her network show Martha Stewart Living—much of it filmed live at Pasta Nostra. Joe was thrilled because his aging mom could sit in her California home with her friends and watch Joe cooking family favorites, as Martha described Joe’s cooking as some of the best in New England. By 2014, after 30 years in the same place, Joe was torn between retirement or building something new.
Bruculino—a guy from Brooklyn in slang Italian—is the new place, a partnership between Joe and three longtime Pasta Nostra staff, Jose Lucero, Marcelo Flores and Agustin Gonzalez. Designed by award-winning architect Roger Ferris and built by Joe and his new partners the beautiful one room bar and dining area, with its exposed steel and concrete, its Italian chairs and terrazzo bar, suggests Milan, New York, Seoul or some other international hot spot. But as Joe says, “Norwalk deserves high-style too.”
And the food? It’s a reminiscence of Joe’s growing up in Brooklyn in the 50’s and 60’s surrounded by other Italian families, but exposed to culinary influences from Syrians, Israelis and Latinos, to mention but a few. The menu is bigger but one can still get Pasta Nostra’s famous homemade pasta and handmade sausages, and there’s a bar too, an amenity Pasta Nostra never enjoyed. Joe still writes the recipes and curates the wine cellar, always looking for genuine wines with high quality-to-price ratios, but Agustin writes the food menu and Marcelo the dessert menu and Jose runs the dining-room.