BATAVIA – The family members operating Acquaviva Winery have created a Batavia destination to savor Italian cuisine and wines from their vineyard in Maple Park with the opening of their latest restaurant.
Launched in May, Acquaviva Ristorante Batavia perches on the southwest corner of Water and Houston streets with a charming view of the Batavia Depot Museum from one of the most popular "patios" in the area, a spacious screened dining area sheltered from the sun and protected from rain – ideal for mercurial summer weather in the Midwest. Two garage-door-scale, roll-up panels can open the dining room to the porch on temperate days, and on Wednesday nights, music from the River Rhapsody downtown concerts can drift indoors.
While the first vines were planted in 2001 in Maple Park, the family already is looking at a fourth generation in the wine business, according to Vito Brandonisio, founder of the Illinois winery.
As a child growing up near the port city of Bari in southern Italy, he remembers visiting his grandfather at work in his vineyard, which he thought was named Acquaviva, the name he chose for his Maple Park winery. A later return visit to his childhood home clarified the geography and he realized his grandfather's winery was in the town of Acquaviva delle Fonti, located southwest of Bari.
It is from Vito Brandonisio's southern Italian roots and those of his chef from Naples, Italy, that a collection of favorite family recipes comprise the Acquaviva menu.
Son Joe Brandonisio of Geneva manages the vineyard, the third generation to follow the pursuit, and his father is already counting on some of his grandchildren to eventually pick up the mantle.
"All of our wines have medals – every single one of them," Joe Brandonisio said, citing their skilled Chilean winemaker Sergio Benavides and the labor-intensive process of hand-pruning the vines, picking the grapes and producing the wines.
Taking top honors with Illinois' Governor's Cup awards have been the red varietal Frontenac and two white wines: Bianco Bello and Brianna.
Joe Brandonisio said the restaurant's full bar also features six taps for a changing lineup of beers. He added that good service is paramount for patrons.
For now, people can't purchase bottles of Acquaviva wine to take home, but the family will explore that possibility with the city of Batavia.
The dining room is accented with large photos of some of the most beautiful spots in Italy, including Bari on the Adriatic Sea. And, fittingly, the Batavia menu reflects a strong focus on seafood dishes.
Father and son say one of the most popular is the zuppa di mare, featuring linguine crowned by mussels, lobster claws, clams, shrimp, calamari and fish.
"It's an amazing dish; there’s a spice to it," Joe Brandonisio said, noting the chef can fine-tune the heat factor to personal preference.
His father said a "feast plate" starter is fritti frutti di mare, featuring shrimp, calamari, cod, fish and baked clams. He said other draws are the homemade gnocchi and the house-made sausage.
Steaks are a staple and Joe Brandonisio also recommends the orecchiette pasta alla sarda, featuring a tomato-based sauce prepared with Italian sausage and finely minced carrots, celery and onions, finished with green peas tossed with the pasta.
There's an array of changing specials and Tuesdays are ladies night with appetizers and music, Vito Brandonisio said.
People may remember his Vito's Original Pizzeria on Batavia's Wilson Street in the 1990s, making the new restaurant actually a homecoming.
"Batavia is a great place – it's good to be back," Joe Brandonisio said, noting that Acquaviva's proximity to the Batavia Riverwalk and nearby trails is perfect for a stroll after dinner.
And while the restaurant can't capture the escapist quality of its winery's Napa- and European-style setting amid the expansive, gently rolling vineyard that Vito Brandonisio calls "a road through paradise," the family has put a special stamp on the Batavia restaurant.
"We're trying to take an old-world feel and keep that theme of Italian tradition – of who we are [as a] family," Joe Brandonisio said.
Special perks are part of the Acquaviva Wine Club, according to Joe Brandonisio. He said members can enjoy discounts on wine, market items, wine tastings and tours, as well as on restaurant dining at all three locations, plus notification of events. Wine selections will be available monthly or quarterly for pickup at the winery. Restaurant staff can provide details or one may visit the website to learn more.
Membership includes four special events held the third Thursday at the beginning of every quarter. When people come out to pick up their product, he said the winery offers a buffet and wine tasting area.
"Come, eat, relax," he said of the three-hour event that includes raffles and games led by the winemaker.
If you go
WHAT: Acquaviva Ristorante Batavia
WHERE: 35 N. Water St., Batavia
WHEN: 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and noon to 8 p.m. Sunday
INFO: acquavivabatavia.com, 630-761-1010