Mama Mia!

Little Italy's Baricelli Inn gets an American-inspired makeover.

Is it heretical to venture the claim that perhaps, just maybe, Little Italy might benefit from a non-Italian restaurant? Seasoned restaurateur and University of Akron culinary school grad Scott Kuhn (the man behind Crocker Park's 87 West) is betting the house on it.

"A lot of people say, •An American bistro in Little Italy?' I'm not Italian. I don't make Italian food," says the 33-year-old Kuhn, who at press time planned to open Washington Place Bistro & Inn in the former Baricelli Inn at the end of November. "We felt that some variety in this area was good."

Kuhn is working with longtime Gamekeeper's chef Chris Johnson on the comfort food menu, which will feature one signature pasta dish with Ohio City Pasta, a root vegetable and a braised oxtail concoction. You can nosh on a pot roast with Chef's Garden carrots, or share the bacon and eggs appetizer, all at prices that hover between $15 and $26. They're even making a bread pudding with Presti's donuts.

"Our menu's based upon supporting some of the local people who have worked really hard," Kuhn says. "We're all Americans, whether we're Italian or German, and this place kind of personifies that."

That's also the motivation behind the new name. Kuhn wanted his restaurant to sound distinctly, definitively, founding-father American. With the blessings of Paul Minnillo, who still owns the property, Kuhn is renovating every room. The stately Inn has been stripped to its skivvies and gotten a millennium makeover — suits are out, jeans are in. The Baricelli we knew as grandiose is gaining that most convivial of all restaurant features: a stonework bar, flanked by booths. Pillars that stuck out like a sore thumb will blend into the remodeled space.

"Did we take a chance trying to fill the old Baricelli's shoes?" Kuhn muses, standing resolutely amid the rubble of the building's utterly massive reconstructive surgery. "I don't think so. It's a different concept, different price point, different look. We're just hoping people build new memories."

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