With the traditions, tastes and warm atmosphere of Nonna’s house in a modern, downtown setting, da Baffone Cucina Italiana draws in Italian food enthusiasts from all around.
da Baffone: Great Italian Food with Good Friends
She’s bold like a Barolo wine. Fiery like Mount Vesuvius. But she’s also kind, warm and inviting like the Mediterranean sun that bathes her birthplace in Santo Stefano del Sole, near Naples, Italy.
To say Camille Giangrande is a force of nature is an understatement; the Roman gods of the elements would be impressed with her. She is the matriarch of the Giangrande family that owns da Baffone Cucina Italiana in downtown Crystal Lake. Opened nearly two years ago with her husband Dominic, her brother-in-law Anthony and his wife Renee, their business has quickly earned accolades. Readers of the Northwest Herald in 2011 and 2012 ranked it as one of the best Italian restaurants in McHenry County.
One of the secrets to da Baffone’s success lies in how the Giangrandes were raised: authentically Italian. Dominic was the last of his family to be born in Monreale on the island of Sicily. Anthony was the first to be born in the United States. They lived the motto that hangs above the entrance to da Baffone’s kitchen: “Where good food, good wine and good friends come together.’
“Growing up, Italian families are always together,” Camille said. “When you go to their house, you’re gonna eat.”
The restaurant’s atmosphere is warm, genuine and kind. You sit down and you feel as if you are at Nonna’s (Grandma’s) house. “It’s like home away from home,” Camille said. “Our regular customers come in twice a week, we sit with them, we have a glass of wine with them.” Dominic added that they want customers to feel “like good friends. It’s not just a concept, it’s how we feel.”
That sentiment has others singing da Baffone’s praises. In a recent post on TripAdvisor, a website that provides user-generated reviews, Michael T. said it was a great Italian culinary experience. “The friendly staff will help you pick out anything from the appetizers to the wines. First-class service, great food, what more can you ask for?” he wrote.
Food Like Nonna’s
Da Baffone’s menu is authentically Italian and includes dishes from all of Italy’s cuisines, but focuses on tastes from the country’s southern region. The kitchen is overseen by Chef Salvatore Savanelli, raised near Naples, Italy, and a chef for nearly 35 years. “The dishes are very simple,” Dominic said. “There’s not much covering up with spices.” Frutti di Mare, Chicken Marsala, Veal Marsala and Veal Saltimbocca are some of the most popular dishes.
Menu specials change daily and weekly and depend on what’s fresh with local purveyors, Anthony explained.
Relatively new to the menu is Il Pranzo Della Nonna (Grandma’s Sunday Dinner). “In Italy, you go to Grandma’s on Sunday,” Camille said. Il Pranzo is a seven-course meal, served family style, which includes dessert and a glass of wine. One of the unique features of Grandma’s Sunday Dinner is the mismatched china and the pitchers of house wine. “Just like life back in Italy,” said Camille.
“People are coming in with their families,” Dominic said. “It introduces them to something new. It is a slower lifestyle where you take time out and cut a big hole in the typical schedule to spend time with family.”
The Giangrandes complement their foods with a wine bar. “A dream of mine is to have the best wine bar in McHenry County,” Camille said. Many think she is well on her way to attaining her dream, voting da Baffone one of the best wine bars in McHenry County, according to readers of the Northwest Herald.
“I grew up in wine country,” Camille said. “My father used to make wine at home.” She said the selection is 80 percent Italian, with almost all the country’s wine-producing regions represented, but it is constantly evolving because it is a “work in progress.”
Desserts are a source of pride because they are all homemade, according to Camille. “Tiramisu is the specialty because my sister taught me how to make it using a family secret,” she said.
Other popular choices include cannoli and gelato flights. “Doing this, you get to taste all items instead of just one flavor,” she said.
Beyond the food is the social atmosphere. Wednesday nights feature singers and the occasional Saturday night is for “eating, drinking and dancing all night long,” Camille said.
“Our restaurant patrons have become our friends,” added Anthony. “It’s a family business.”
>> The restaurant is located at 111 N. Main St. in downtown Crystal Lake. For more, call 815-893-6149 or visit www.dabaffonecucinaitaliana.com.
Did you know ... The restaurant was named after Camille Giangrande’s father, whose nickname is Baffone ( “man with big mustache” in Italian). Camille’s sisters run a “sister” restaurant in Santo Stefano del Sole called Agriturismo da Baffone.