At first, Maria Medoro was a little bit apprehensive about moving up to Birmingham from Plymouth, where she had been the chef at Nico & Vali for five years. “It was the other side of the world to me,” she says in her lightly accented English. “I was afraid it was too upscale.”
But Medoro wanted to open her own place, so when a friend mentioned an opportunity to take over the Old Woodward Deli, she decided to take the chance.
After a year presiding over Cucina Medoro, her cozy Italian breakfast and lunch spot, she has a very different feeling about her new hometown. She’s discovered that the people are friendly and down-to-earth, including the landlord, Gill Chung, who helped her get started. She loves the fact that many of the people who work in the nearby boutiques come by almost daily for one of her pastas or a bowl of soup with a slice of grilled, house-made bread.
Bread comes naturally to the native of Abruzzo, Italy, even though her father, who had a bakery there when she was growing up, had told her: “Stay away from dough; it’s not for you. You make pasta and cakes, but don’t do bread.”
Happily, she decided father didn’t know best, and she feels she is “making my daddy happy.” He passed away many years ago, but she says she still feels his presence.
Cucina Medoro’s menu of freshly prepared fare starts with breakfast frittatas and French toast, and includes at least two soups, often stracciatella or pasta e fagioli, a pasta of the day, and lasagna and gnocchi. Salads such as arugula, prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, and tomato, as well as panini — including a simple prosciutto and Parmigano and a New Orleans-style muffuletta — fill out the concise list. She is refreshingly modest, calling her style “old-fashioned cooking, like Grandma used to cook. I don’t want to be called a chef. I am a woman who likes to cook.”
Because the restaurant closes early on some weeknights, it’s available for private parties in the evening.
One of Medoro’s neighbors, jeweler Robert Greenstone, is among her newfound fans. He says he’s a “frequent visitor to Maria’s” and has lunch there a couple of times a week. “As soon as I open the door, the aroma hits me,” he says, “the wonderful aroma of Italian food.” Sometimes he doesn’t choose a dish, but simply says “surprise me.”
The next step for Cucina Medoro is a rear patio that will add more space to the six-table capacity of the room with walls painted a bright tangerine and decorated with paintings from local galleries. The true décor, of course, is in the glass case where her colorful food is displayed — and on the plates that emerge from her kitchen.
Medoro came to the United States in 2000, and worked at Laurel Manor in Livonia before joining Nico & Vali. Now, as her own boss, she is enjoying the fulfillment of her American dream.
768 N. Old Woodward Ave., Birmingham; 248-594-7077. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Mon., 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tues.-Thurs., 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Fri., 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sat.