Dining with Dan
Bizzotto's Gallery Caffe
A palette for the palate on the Eastern Shore


by Daniel M. Walker, Contributing Writer

Dan Walker

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 creations.

“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 venture on! 

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 dwalker123@comcast.net.      



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