Food Insider: Chef Dominic Bruno of Bruno’s Little Italy

Ever wonder what makes some of Little Rock’s food personalities tick? Rock City Eat’s latest series, Food Insider, takes a look at individuals who are helping change the landscape of our city’s culinary scene. Whether they’re in the kitchen, managing a storefront, farming land or running a food truck … we’ll delve into both the professional and personal side of these dynamite people. This week, we have Chef Dominic Bruno of Bruno’s Little Italy.

How long has Bruno’s been a part of the Little Rock dining landscape?
The original Bruno’s Little Italy was opened by my grandfather, Jimmy Bruno, on Roosevelt Road in 1949. Throughout the years we’ve changed locations a few times. During the Bowman Curve era the restaurant was not financed by my family, but my Uncle Vince was still the head chef during this time. Now, my father, Gio, is the proprietor. All in all, we’re looking at 65 years now.

What’s it like growing up in a restaurant family?
In my case, not too different than growing up in an ordinary family I’d imagine, perhaps a higher than average meatball intake.

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Did you always want to be a part of the family business?
That’s a tricky question. I was always drawn to Bruno’s. My dad wouldn’t allow me to work there until I was 18. But once I did, it didn’t take long for me to realize how much I loved restaurant culture, and learning my family’s recipes from my Uncle Vince was a life-changing experience for me. From that point on, I knew I wanted to help carry on my family’s legacy. It would be years later that I would understand what it means to be a chef, however.

Switching gears a bit… how has the reception for the new downtown location been thus far?
The response from our patronage has been overwhelmingly positive and we are absolutely blessed to be experiencing this level of success.

How would you describe the menu to someone unfamiliar with your restaurant?
Classic Neapolitan fare.

What is the most popular menu item at Bruno’s Little Italy?
Lasagna Imbotito. Without question … and for good reason.

I know you’ve gotten this question before, but why isn’t Bruno’s Little Italy open for lunch?
Lunch was originally part of the plan for the new location downtown. A much more involved prep model, extremely high volume, and limited space have all contributed to the delay of that plan. But there is hope…

Any chance this might change one day?
We are currently looking into opening a dedicated lunch spot right next door. Cross your fingers.

Do you foresee any changes to the menu coming down the pike or will things pretty much remain the same?
When you’ve been serving the same fare for this long, tinkering with the menu can be dangerous. Devotees may have noticed a few dishes have not made it onto the current menu (Brasiola Rollatina), while some dishes missing for many years have returned (Livers ala Caruso, Spaghetti Reggio). I have also added a few new dishes (Steamed Clams, Linguini Pesto) but with a menu this large and with so many crowd favorites, continuous change isn’t always the best idea. Diners looking for something a little different are encouraged to try our nightly specials, where I stay as seasonal and local as possible.

If you weren’t a chef, what could you see yourself doing?
I actually studied physical anthropology at U of A Fayetteville. I love the natural sciences. These days I’m more into cosmology and particle physics but I find it all fascinating. If it hadn’t been for cooking I would have most likely pursued a career in research.

When you’re not in the kitchen, what keeps you busy?
Eating! I eat out. A lot. Probably too much. I try to eat at a new restaurant every week. I’m obsessed with the dining experience. But I also love reading (mostly cookbooks), riding my bike, finding new music, trying new cocktails, watching Top Chef. I love going camping, it’s hard to find time anymore, though.

Who’s your favorite band?
I mostly listen to hip hop and electronic music these days, but my favorite band will always be Radiohead.

Ever walked out of a movie theater?
Haha, can’t say that I have. I don’t frequent the theaters much anymore.

What are you responsible for cooking on Thanksgiving?
After living out of state for so many years, actually spending Thanksgiving with my family is a pretty rare thing, so I’m excited to get to cook for them this year. I’ll be preparing the turkey and cornbread dressing, green bean casserole (massive guilty pleasure), a little pomme puree, and who can refuse the ubiquitous pumpkin pie?

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Food Insider: Chef Dominic Bruno of Bruno’s Little Italy