It is the oldest building in Hillsboro that is still in use. It’s a somewhat non-descript, red barn on the corner of Shaw and 172nd, hugging Tualatin Valley Highway, waving goodbye to commuters heading into Beaverton, just a few short feet away.
It caught my eye. It seemed so out of place, so foreign and unique, this old looking red barn surrounded by new buildings housing technology and retailer spaces in shiny new buildings. My intrigue drove me inside.
I walked into a dimly lit building that looked kind of like what you would expect a barn to look like: Concrete floors, dark walls… tables? A hostess booth? A bar with an impressive wall of liquor? Televisions? Was this a restaurant?
“Welcome to Nonna Emilia’s!”
She was a dark haired beauty, with a radiant smile and Italian features. “How many today?”
“Nonna Emilia’s?” I said. “What is that?”
She smiled back. I had to divert my eyes so I could go home to my equally beautiful wife with a clean conscience. “Nonna Emilia’s,” She began, “Is an Italian restaurant. It’s been family owned since 1978. It’s named for the grandmother of the owners. The story of the restaurant goes like this:
“’‘Nonna (Nonna Italian for Grandmother) Emilia grew up in Florence, Italy where her mother and grandmother taught her to cook in the family café. In 1921, Nonna Emilia left Italy on a steamship to North America and six years later opened one of Portland, Oregon’s first authentic Italian restaurants with her husband, Ernie Ceccanti.’”
“This all sounds amazing!” I said. “Do you have seating available?”
“Absolutely! Follow me!” She said, continuing her story. “Nonna constantlymaintained her creed to use only premium ingredients. Her famous sauce, which I recommend on just about anything, has eleven herbs and spices and a special blend of meat.”
She sat me down in a booth and warned me that the entrees were huge and I should probably plan on utilizing a doggie bag. “But, don’t worry. The prices won’t scare you too much.”
The thing is, I wasn’t even hungry. But, once I sat down and caught a whiff of the succulent spices wafting from the kitchen, my stomach began to rumble. She handed me the menu and everything sounded good. I wanted it all. I settled on a cold beer and a hot pizza.
After my order, the hostess continued with her story: “In the Italian family tradition, Nonna Emilia passed her recipes from “the old country” down to her kids and grandkids. The grandkids still own the place. They still cook her recipes, they still serve family sized portions and treat their guests with respect.
I took her advice and asked for my order to go. The box weighed five pounds. Needless to say, I did not finish it at that time. I didn’t finish it that night. Or even the next day. A $25 pizza fed my wife and I for FOUR days. Now if that wouldn’t please Nonna Emilia, I don’t know what would.
Somewhere, Nonna Emilia is smiling.
Nonna Emilia’s is located at 17210 SW Shaw and is open for lunch Tuesday- Friday from 11-4, and for dinner Mondays 4-9, Tuesday-Thursday 4-9:30, Friday and Saturday from 4-10:30 and Sunday from 1-9.