By Brian O'Shea   Published May 06, 2004 at 5:44 AM Photography: Neil Kiekhofer of Front Room Photography

{image1}A number of Italian restaurants boast that their food is just like a Sicilian nonna's, but few actually are. Mia Famiglia, 10049 W. Forest Home Ave., claims Italian cooking is part of its family tradition, and it's easy to believe that they're telling the truth.

Owned and operated by Tom White Sr. and family, Mia Famiglia attributes a large part of its success to White's son, Tom Jr. who has been the head chef since the restaurant opened its doors more than two years ago.

"I used to call my son an artist, an artist can paint a painting that makes people happy," said the elder White. "Now I call him a craftsman because he paints that painting every night."

After graduating from culinary school at Waukesha County Technical College, the younger White worked at several area restaurants including Vinifera and Osteria del Mondo. He has also traveled as far as Sicily to study under Chef Franco u' Piscaturi to learn the fine art of cooking seafood and pastas.

{image2}The idea for Mia Famiglia's creation began when the younger White rented an apartment across the street from its current location. After seeing that the building was for sale he called his parents. Once inside, the ball started to roll and what was formerly a pediatric clinic, would soon be an authentic Italian restaurant.

"We walked in, and felt that this was something we can do," said the elder White.

The inside is set up very comfortably. The main seating area has about 15 tables and a well-stocked bar, including an extensive wine list. The tunes are usually heavy on Sinatra and play at a comfortable conversation volume. There is another seating area downstairs, as well as another bar and fireplace.

During summer, an outdoor patio is opened up that overlooks Potter's Woods. Combined with Italian marble tables, soft music and the picturesque greenery, the outdoor patio offers a unique dining experience reminiscent of a European bistro. During the summer, Mia Famiglia will have dancing as well as jazz performances one night a month.

"I used to sit here for hours and look and feel," said the elder White. "We picked up ideas from all over the world and wanted to share what we like with others. We have good music, good wine and good food."

{image3}The ambience at Mia Famiglia seems like something that you might find in downtown Milwaukee. Guests always tell the elder White that he could make more money elsewhere, and that he should pack up and move, but White has other ideas.

"People don't think this is supposed to be here," said the elder White. "I say 'why not?' We're 15 minutes from downtown or Brookfield Square. It's a great meeting place. I am also very grateful for the support people in this area have given us for the past two years."

Entrees with meat include options like Veal Saltimbocca and Chicken Spiedini. Pasta dishes include Pappardelle Alla Bolognese and Raddiattore con Pollo. Entrées generally cost about $20 and everything is made from scratch. You may even see the younger White slip out the back and clip fresh herbs from his garden.

"This is a place where you can feel comfortable. Everyone is welcome," said the elder White. "It's what were known for: fine dining, casual atmosphere and affordable pricing."

Mia Famiglia takes reservations and hosts parties with no booking fee. They are open from Tuesday to Saturday, from 5 p.m. For more information call (414) 425-0507 or go to