As a college student, I find that eating at the Dining Commons can get old very fast. Every so often I’ll wander onto Main Street and grab a quick bank-account-friendly meal. 

There are times when I want to dress a little fancier and pay a few extra dollars to experience a five-star meal. The one place I will go when I decide to splurge a little is Nicola’s Trattoria.

Set back on Railroad Street, Nicola’s is an authentic Italian restaurant that has been in business since May 1997. Nicola Bencivenga and his wife, Cheryl Bencivenga, own the restaurant.

Look What's Cookin' on Main Street

Cheryl Bencivenga said that the two met when she visited Italy on an art and history tour while she was attending Keene State College. Nicola had a passion for cooking and the two moved to Keene, N.H. and decided to open up a restaurant. Nicola’s was originally located on Winter Street and remained in that location for about 15 years before moving the business to Railroad Street roughly three years ago.

Moving the restaurant to a new location gave Nicola the chance to design the kitchen the way he wanted and Cheryl was able to use her interior decorating skills to vamp-up the place and make some changes — enlarging the bar, doing some architectural detailing in the trim work and creating a cosmopolitan style bar. In the summertime, outdoor seating is available. The floor is concrete and the tables are black with black-and-white-striped umbrellas.

Cheryl said upon moving to the new location, she tried to keep the dining room similar to the way it was in the old restaurant. The walls are a light cream color with white trim; each table is decorated nicely with fine dinnerware and white tablecloths. The chairs and floor are black.

The entire restaurant is lined with large windows so natural light can come through, lined with branches that have white lights strung on them. There is accent lighting all over, which gives the restaurant a calm and classy atmosphere. The kitchen is an open kitchen, so those sitting in the dining room can watch the chefs prepare their meal.

In addition to the dining room, there is another room called the “Tuscan” room, which is where the bar is located. Upon entering the room I forgot that I was in Keene and felt like I had traveled to Italy. The floors are black-and-white checkered and the walls are red. The tables and chairs are black with red-flowered cushioning. The windows in the back have white shutters on them, creating an Italian-like style. The bar has black high-top chairs that have black, white and tan-striped cushions. The Tuscan room is where live Jazz bands play on Friday and Saturday nights.

The food at Nicola’s Trattoria blew me away. I have been to many Italian restaurants, but never had I tasted Italian food that was so authentic.

I had not known until I sat down with Cheryl that her husband not only came from Italy, but was also the head chef. Cheryl said that the restaurant has a large menu that includes pasta, chicken, steak, veal, seafood, pizza, flatbread pizza, soups and salads.

Cheryl said that they have a lot of different options, but they shy away from the traditional spaghetti and meatballs. When I went to Nicola’s I ordered the Milanese Con Pollo: pan-fried breaded chicken topped with a lemon white-wine butter sauce served with aglio e olio pasta and vegetables.

All the flavors mixed together created an unforgettable meal.

The food is on the expensive side, but there are choices on the menu that are fairly inexpensive.

They also serve smaller portions of meals so people on a budget can come in and get an authentic Italian meal for great price.

Overall, I would highly recommend Nicola’s to anyone looking for a meal that not only tastes like you’ve traveled to Italy, but a place where you can relax for a few hours and the staff treats you like family.

After speaking with Cheryl, it was evident that the most important thing about the restaurant was making sure that the customers leave feeling happy and satisfied.

“We work really hard at serving quality food, but more than that, bringing people’s memories back from their childhood and their families, because that’s what happens. And that’s the really nice thing because the food is so authentic and fresh and flavorful that people think ‘Oh my god, I remember that, I remember that instant in my mother or my grandmother’s home’ where, it just clicked,” Cheryl said.


Brooke Stall can be contacted at

Share and Enjoy !