Chef Tony Priolo

Tony Priolo

Tony Priolo is in the business of making food dreams come true, whether you can eat everything on his menu or have food allergies. This beloved Chicago-based chef says there is no food allergy he cannot handle.

His restaurant Piccolo Sognowhich translates to “little dream” in Italian, was inspired by his desire to make simple, authentic Italian dishes just the way his grandmother taught him. His love of food extends to each dish and customer, as he takes every precaution to help families with food allergies enjoy safely eating out.


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Piccolo Sogno is known for being great with food allergies. How did this start?

It has always been a part of our culture, but it started with a couple that had a son with a severe wheat allergy. They brought their own pots and pans to prevent any cross-contact. I made their meals in the back kitchen away from everything, cooking it all myself. I assured them I would take care of it because I wanted to build their confidence. After they trusted us, they started eating here two or three times a week. Fifteen years later, they’re still coming back.


What is your process for serving guests with food allergies?

Our servers always ask if our guests have any allergies. The order is marked and shared with the kitchen staff. We evaluate the allergy and determine how and where to cook the requested dish, then execute in the safest way possible. Everyone down the line including myself, the sous chef and the expeditors, follows protocol. The allergen is marked by position at the table so we know exactly where the food and drinks are going, through every course — it is very precise.


Why is accommodating food allergic guests so important?

People should be able to dine out comfortably – it is part of the restaurant business to accommodate everyone, including those with food allergies. Parents ask a lot of questions, and that’s okay. I am a father first, and if my daughter had a food allergy, I would do the same. There is so much trust involved when you eat out, and we take it very seriously.

Have you had any breakthrough moments while serving a guest with food allergies?

I met a 7-year-old girl at an event who told me she had never eaten in a restaurant before. She and her family came to the restaurant, and they were so happy with their experience, they came back twice. That’s how it should be. 


Best dish for a nut allergy?

There are no peanuts on the menubut we do use several tree nuts. However, we make everything in-house so there is a lot of control over the preparation of the dish. For dessert, the panna cotta with berries is a great option.

Spokin Tip: Tony does not recommend the gelato for tree nut allergies since they make their hazelnut gelato in the same machine.

Best dish for a wheat allergy or those who avoid gluten?

We added a gluten-free menu about a year and a half ago, so there are plenty of options if you have a wheat allergy. Most of the entrees and pastas can be made gluten free — it’s the most common dietary request we get.


Do you have a dish for egg, soy, milk and sesame allergies? 

No problem. There aren’t any food allergies that we can’t handle.

Who inspired your passion for cooking?

It all started with my grandmother. We were very close, and she would travel high and low to get the best ingredients for her cooking. I was just a passenger on her journey, but I hope to keep her tradition alive in my own cooking and family. I remember making pizzas every Friday night growing up, and I like to keep that going with my wife and daughter.


Do you have a favorite cooking memory?

After my grandmother had passed, my mother and aunt were trying to figure out a specific recipe that she would make during the Christmas holidays. No one could get it correct. I told them that the secret to her cranberry pound cake was condensed milk, not regular milk. They tried it, and it was perfect. I was only 7 years old at the time. 

What’s the most popular dish at Piccolo Sogno?

Branzino al Forno — whole-roasted, sea salt-crusted Mediterranean Sea Bass.

What 3 things do you always keep in your kitchen?

Olive oil, flour and coffee

If you could have dinner with one person who would it be?

My grandmother

Cubs or Sox?

Cubs — I grew up on Waveland.

You have a second Chicago restaurant, Nonnina, and plans to open a third — can you give us a preview of the upcoming Maillard Tavern?

Maillard is going to be a burger bar opening this year, hopefully. The name comes from the Maillard reaction, which is a chemical reaction in browning. We named it after Louis-Camille Maillard, the French chemist who discovered it. We are currently looking for the perfect gluten-free bun. And, we aren’t planning on putting any peanuts on the menu.

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