Lots of people love Italian food. But longtime cheesemonger Jill Erber and veteran chef Cathal Armstrong really love Italian food.
Erber, who has run Cheesetique—her wine bar/cheese shops in Del Ray and Shirlington—for two decades, will readily tell you her all-time favorite cheese is piave vecchio, a DOP product from the Veneto region. Armstrong, a celebrated Alexandria chef known for founding the late Restaurant Eve (he now runs Kaliwa, Mattie and Eddie’s, and Hummingbird) grew up taking foodie trips to Bologna and Palermo from his native Ireland with his dad, a tour operator.
Now, the two are teaming up to turn Erber’s Shirlington space into Corso Italian, a “neo-retro” trattoria with an indulgent, wide-ranging menu of pastas and secondi. Corso plans to open its doors in early December.
“When I think of hospitality and warmth, I think of Italian food,” Erber says. “I think it jives perfectly with my own background as a host and someone who loves to make people happy. Everyone loves Italian. Italian makes people happy.”
In the kitchen, Armstrong doesn’t limit himself to any particular region or tradition, and his accommodating menu will incorporate generous Italian-American platters and well-known regional specialties.
Expect hefty meat dishes like bone-in veal parmesan and rosemary-scented bistecca alla Fiorentina that fill entire plates. Chicken Vesuvio, an Italian-American speciality of Chicago, will appear on the menu, as will simple seafood dishes like garlicky shrimp and a seasonal crudo.
Cooks will make pasta by hand in the restaurant’s front window, and use it in classic preparations like carbonara with housemade guanciale. An artichoke ravioli Armstrong is testing out will be topped with shavings of Erber’s beloved piave vecchio.
The drink menu will stick to Italian classics like negronis, spritzes, Piedmont wines, and a selection of after-dinner amaro.
“You’re not going to come in and not recognize things on the menu,” Erber says. “You’re gonna go: ‘Oh my gosh, I know that,’ and then ‘oh my gosh, that’s the best version of it I’ve ever had.’”
Erber and Armstrong have known each other since she opened the original Del Ray Cheesetique in 2004, and he quickly began shopping there for his then-new Restaurant Eve in Old Town. Cheesetique opened its second location in a corner space in the Village at Shirlington in 2011.
Corso will take over that Shirlington space, incorporating a small Italian gourmet shop with fresh pasta, salumi, cheese, and wine, as well as the sit-down restaurant. Soon after the December grand opening, the restaurant will begin serving lunch.
Corso, which will have two private rooms along with the main dining room, will be decorated with vibrant wallpaper and festooned with vintage photographs. In one room, decor includes a giant mural of a historic map of Rome and a life-sized Vespa mounted on the wall.
“What we’re going for is classic and comfortable,” Erber says, “but with a twist and a playful component.”
Corso, 4024 Campbell Ave., Arlington.