Peno in many ways is the classic neighborhood trattoria. It’s small, a few steps off the beaten path in Clayton’s Moorlands neighborhood, with an address on Wydown Boulevard, although the door faces east, in the direction of Westwood Drive.
Chef-owner Pepe Kehm named the restaurant after his grandfather: SLM reported that when he was young, Kehm couldn't negotiate his full name—Guiseppino—so he called him simply Peno, then and thereafter.
There’s plenty of outdoor seating for days when the weather’s more cooperative than it can be in July, and a couple of potted fig trees set off the terraza. Inside, it’s casual, a blackboard with specials and features at one end. The brown paper on tabletops is folded to the correct size, avoiding those annoying stiff corners when paper is laid on like a tablecloth.
While the menu has been changed from what’s on the website, there are still plenty of interesting options. This is, for example, the best time of year for panzanella, sometimes called, as it is at Peno, bread salad (below). Traditionally, pieces of leftover bread are tossed with tomatoes, perhaps with a few other things, and a vinaigrette dressing, the dressing and tomato juices moistening the bread.
Let me digress a little here. When I’ve been in Italy, I’ve been surprised at some of the tomatoes in the markets – and I go to the markets a lot. Often the tomatoes have streaks of green on them. I was shocked. While I haven’t been to Sicily, the heart of the tomato-based sauces, I certainly didn’t expect to see tomatoes like that. Other piles of tomatoes were obviously ripe – why the separate piles of hard, streaky tomatoes? Finally, I saw a pile with a sign announcing they were tomatoes for salads. The next day I found one like that in a salad. It turns out that the dead-ripe tomatoes we love are used for cooking. The firmer, even slightly crisp ones with more acidity are used in salads.
And that’s what I found in the bread salad here, tomato that still wasn’t quite ripe, although not green, certainly. Part of me was surprised. But the firm tomato was a good contrast to the sometimes-crunchy/sometimes-soaked texture of the bread. The vinaigrette was great, tart and attention-getting, balanced out with shreds of mozzarella cheese. It worked very well.
Half the specialty pizzas are vegetarian, and there’s a gluten-free crust available. The Roberto (above), here on a thin crust, pairs up flavorful wild mushrooms with wedges of fingerling potato, three kinds of cheese, including goat, and a nice hit of garlic, quite tasty even to those who don’t grasp the idea of potato on pizza.
Linguini (above) still lightly al dente lolled in a bath of seafood broth, a little white wine, some tomato and garlic, and plenty of protein, not just chunks of fish but shrimp, mussels and clams, more clams than mussels, in fact, a rarity in restaurants. It wasn’t really a red sauce, but it wasn’t white, either, but somewhere in between, and an exemplary dish, just the thing for the leftovers to go into a fritatta the next day.
Succumbing to a lemon-ricotta cupcake (above) was probably inevitable. Softly whipped cream trailed down the inverted cake and a flourish of ground pistachios graced the top. It’s good it was there; the cake was a little dry until one struck the ricotta filling in the middle. Most of the lemon flavor was hanging out with the ricotta; the cake itself was only lightly lemony.
Pleasant but not cloying service in this family-friendly spot. Lots of hard surfaces, so it surely must get noisy. And a note that the online menu, at least at this writing, is not quite up to date; the server at the next table, dealing with regular customers, remarked that they’d changed the menu recently.
Tue - Thu: 5:00 p.m.- 9:00 p.m.
Fri: 5:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.
Sat: 12:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.
Sun: 11 a.m. - 9 p.m.