Mucci’s Italian is among the unquestionable new bright spots in local dining this year. And to know why is to know Tim Niver. Reflecting on the last 12 months in Niver’s restaurant tenure, a lone, unmistakable question emerges: when was the last time anyone ordered lasagna in a restaurant?
Niver recognized a huge blind spot in the local food scene—old school Italian comfort had quietly faded into irrelevance. At a time when high-end crudo joints were opening (and closing) at a furious pace, he and chef Chris Uhrich considered the alternative—the red sauce, the checkerboard wax paper, the cheap house wine, the tagliatelle with clams—and reminded us all why it’s so good. It’s simple and it’s honest. It’s not trying to win a James Beard Award; it’s trying to win your heart.
He’s taken Italian back to where it belongs—an old neighborhood in a railroad town, down the street from an old brewery, in a building so plain you’d hardly notice it. Because at the end of the day—call it a rainy Tuesday, not an Instagram-ready Friday—we don’t want to chase trends. We don’t want to be “seen” dining. We just want food that gives us a squeeze and says everything’s going to be all right. And Uhrich, who cooks with warmth, generosity, and graciousness, is the perfect chef to give us that big culinary hug.
But maybe you haven’t ordered lasagna in a restaurant because your grandmother makes it best, so why bother? And that’s fair. But Niver was savvy enough to understand that’s not the right comparison. Back in January, I asked him about the side salad he was planning for Mucci’s Italian. It is, perhaps, the best side salad I’ve ever eaten.
“My mom used Good Seasons dressing on salads,” he told me. “I told Chris to make Good Seasons, but with fresh herbs. With the pizza, I want it reminiscent of a frozen pizza, but it’s our own stuff—it’s just that tiny bit of nostalgia. And if we can do it just a little bit better than anyone else?” He’s not trying to out-nonna your nonna. He’s only hoping you might smile and think of her when you eat Mucci’s agnolotti.
After cultivating the modern, elegant new-French vibe of Saint Dinette, Niver had the stones to follow it up with lasagna, tiramisu, and red-wine-mixed-with-orange-Fanta. For delivering our childhood favorites with a fine dining acumen, for executing a continuously renowned level of customer service, and for giving us the restaurant we always wanted but had no idea we were missing, Tim Niver is a Trailblazer.
Our mission at The Growler is to tell stories that inspire progress in local food, drink, and culture. And in that spirit as part of our 2016 Kind-Of-A-Big-Deal Issue, we felt the need to point out 25 people, ideas, businesses, and organizations who have done necessary, important, and groundbreaking work in 2016. See the rest of our 2016 Trailblazers here.