ADA, Michigan — There is no shortage of incredible restaurants in West Michigan. But with so many options, how do you choose where to indulge? I — Riley, a 13 ON YOUR SIDE digital producer — have set out to find the tastiest spots in the area and am documenting my journey in a now on-air series called 13 Eats.
13 Eats is all about highlighting the best restaurants in the West Michigan area. This week, I’m headed to the place you all at home voted as your favorite restaurant in Ada – Nonna’s Trattoria.
While Nonna’s crisp white exterior and huge wraparound porch looks modern among the buildings packed along Ada Drive, there is quite a bit of history behind it. Taking a closer look, you can spot its vintage flair in the cement flower box near the front door and weathered, wavy window panes.
The Trattoria was once a home built around 1880, says Kristen Wildes with the Ada Historical Society. The home was owned by John Smith and his family in the 1900s, Wildes explained. Smith was a cobbler who ran the shop next door, which burned down in 1920. Smith’s daughter, Nellie, was the director of the Ada Congregational Church Sunday School, just around the corner on Bronson Street. She often hosted classes in their home.
In the 1940s, a resident named John Systma owned the home. The town was in need of a barber, so he recruited Walter Vander Wulp from Hudsonville, and his family moved into the home, running the barbershop out of the basement.
The Ada Barbershop was opened in the building next door around 1960 – and still stands to this day, the only difference is Walter’s son, Walt, has taken over the reins.
Around 2013, when Nonna’s owners started renovating the building, they found original wallpaper still coating the walls of an upstairs closet – a lovely testament to a business that was once a family home, says Wildes.
I started my meal with an Avocado Salad ($12.00), which includes slices from half an avocado, cherry tomatoes, a hard boiled egg, pine nuts and fresh grated parmesan cheese served on a bed of mixed greens with a house-made French vinaigrette. This salad was so delectably light and springy, each bite jam packed with crunchy mixed greens with the soft, perfectly ripe avocado. On top of the wonderful mix of raw vegetables, the dressing had an acidic, hearty taste that made the dish truly shine. I’d take a bottle of that dressing to perfect any homemade salad.
Next came the Meatballs ($12.00), which were made with fresh beef served with their in-house tomato sauce and fresh grated Parmesan cheese. With each bite, your fork slides through the tender beef like butter. You can immediately tell the meat is quality, peppered with a perfect balance of salty and rosemary flavors. The sauce is impeccable; chunks of tomatoes so fresh it has a zing of sweetness among its savory spices.
For the main course, I got a Chicken Scallopini ($25.00), which is thinly pounded chicken breast dusted with flour and sautéed, served with angel hair pasta and finished with a lemon caper butter sauce. The chicken was tender and packed an acidic, seasoned flavor with each bite. The pasta was a remarkable sidekick – soft noodles with a buttery sauce and crunchy capers on top. This was a light but filling dish, perfect for eating on Nonna’s magnificent patio on a warm summer night.
Finally, I ended the feast with the Veal Saltimbocca ($29.00), which is pounded veal tenderloin, sage and prosciutto, lightly sautéed in a white wine sauce and served with sautéed green beans. Truthfully, I’d recommend this meal to anyone who would listen. As a self-proclaimed garlic fanatic, this dish was mouthwatering. I loved how thin each tenderloin was, making the traditionally hearty dish feel so light, each bite with flavor that packs a punch. The meat was coated in the most wonderful sauce, loaded with tastes of sage, butter and wine. To boot, the green beans were craveably tender and garlicky. This dish transported me to my own villa in Italy in the summertime, made complete with a glass of white wine and freshly baked bread.
The name 'nonna' is the Italian word for grandmother. Owner Ron Cook says he and his wife chose the name because they want the restaurant to feel like you’re eating dinner at your grandmother’s house on a Sunday night, with fresh, homemade meals served straight from the oven onto your plate. While that’s quite the feat to live up to, I truly think they’ve achieved it.
As soon as you pull open the door, you are greeted by a smell that I can only describe as luxe. The air wafts with lavender, fresh lemons and steaming espresso. The décor has a coastal hotel feeling, with gray shutters blocking the view of the kitchen, airy white walls, white tablecloths, greenery peppered on each table and the most beautiful landscapes coating each wall. And of course, like a true Italian eatery, a large woody wine cellar takes up a front closet.
I don’t think I’ll ever stop comparing other Italian eateries to Nonna’s unmatchable flavors, deep-rooted history and incredible airy, coastal vibe. On top of it all, the owners and staff were passionate about serving the West Michigan community. People of Ada, you can rest assured that I understand all the hype about your favorite restaurant.
One minute, you’re walking through a historic downtown street and the next, you’re in a summer paradise. You can use your visit as an excuse to dress up, or take it more casually; you can eat on the deck for a decadent warm weather date night, or cozy up with a giant plate of true Italian cuisine in the dreary winter months – no matter what way you choose, you’ve simply got to try Nonna’s Trattoria in Ada.
► Nonna's: The Trattoria is located at 584 Ada Dr SE, Ada, MI 49301
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