41 Market Street, Onancock, Va.
• bizzottos.esva.net • (757) 787-3103
What better way to enjoy the holidays than an intimate
dinner with close friends in a charming restaurant like Bizzotto’s Gallery
Caffé, located in Onancock, Va. Onancock is a quaint village nestled on the
bank of a snug harbor on the east side of the Chesapeake Bay. When asked,
“Why a restaurant in Onancock?” owner/artist Miguel Bizzotto answered in his
rich, Italian accent, “Good things happen by accident sometimes. I am a
leather craftsman by trade, showing my fine-crafted handbags in the best art
shows on the East Coast. A friend convinced me to set up a craft gallery
here in this store.” The store, built in the late 1920s, was originally a
ladies millinery. Miguel continues, “My mother was a cook in Italy, so both
my cooking and my passion for art come naturally. So the gallery also became
a place for me to cook for my friends.” Bizzotto’s is a testament to
Miguel’s craftsmanship, from the handmade bar to his tasteful gourmet
“My menu, like my art, changes all
the time. My regular customers like changes, and I only cook what is fresh.”
Bizzotto’s menu was varied and provided a selection sure to please the
holiday hankerings of any gathering of friends. Sharing a meal with friends
also provides an opportunity to sample many different flavors.
The evening I visited Bizzotto’s,
we started our meal with two soups — tomato basil and a spicy crab chowder,
a house salad of Romaine lettuce, carrots and parmesan cheese, and a dish of
mussels. The tomato basil soup is one of Miguel’s favorites — a thick, rich
tomato base is poured over freshly grated Parmesan cheese. The crab chowder
had a thick stock packed with crabmeat and a hint of spice — just the type
of dish you would expect to fend off the chilly air blowing off the
Chesapeake Bay this time of year.
The mussels could have been a meal
in themselves. Again a favorite of Miguel’s, this stand-out shellfish
appetizer reflects both the Chesapeake and Miguel’s Mediterranean heritage.
Black mussels are simmered in a white wine, tarragon, garlic, tomato, lemon
and ginger brandy broth. Were I not doing serious research here, I could
have spent the rest of the evening just mellowing in a state of gourmet
contentment with the mussels, a glass of great wine and friendly fellowship.
But this is research — or is it art appreciation? — in either case, we must
The wine I was enjoying, suggested by Miguel, was Malbec
Entrada 2010 from Mendoza, Argentina. I don’t consider myself a wine
aficionado, so his suggestions were key. I’m more a beer and Tennessee
whiskey type of guy, but I agree with Miguel that a good glass of wine is
just the thing to complement a great meal. Others in our group, who prefer
white wine, tried two Rieslings: Dr. Loosen 2010 from Mosel, Germany; and
Shine 2009 from Pfalz, Germany. Thumbs up on all the wine selections!
Bizzotto has a very extensive list, and listening to Miguel describe certain
ones is what I imagine it might have been like to hear Picasso describe a
favorite painting. An artist is an artist, regardless of the medium.
The entrees selected by our group
were as varied as the first course. The first entree — a grilled duck breast
topped with cherry balsamic reduction — was served with risotto and sautéed
spinach. Risotto is one of my favorite side dishes, and this was very nicely
done and a perfect complement to the duck. The second selection was the
salmon served with Eastern Shore mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli, and
carrots drizzled with fig reduction. The third — “Cod Meuniere” — was a cod
filet sautéed in garlic, white wine, and capers served with potatoes and
sautéed spinach. Both the salmon and cod were moist and full of flavor. The
final entree selected was bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin with a balsamic
reduction. Each dish was prepared and served like a work of art, almost too
pretty to deface with cutlery. But the visual feast quickly gave way to a
feast for the taste buds, with each sampling the other’s meal. It’s often
said in this neck of the woods that it’s difficult for people to agree on
anything this close to Washington. Thank goodness this isn’t politics — all
of our selections met unanimous approval!
Having been highly successful in our choices thus far, we
looked for just the right combination of desserts to comprise the grand
finale of our dining experience. We ordered the key lime pie, a chocolate
concoction called “Chocolate Molten,” and a Miguel-inspired crème brulée.
Again, once around the table was all it took to polish off the field.
So in the holiday tradition of good friends and good
times, we can add Bizzotto’s mixture of good food, great service by Shanna,
and intimate atmosphere to the list of true holiday Blue Plate Legends.
It’s hard to believe we’re about
to enter a new year. Last year Cooperative Living readers shared with me
some really great restaurant suggestions. Please keep your suggestions
coming — you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.