This blog is dedicated to finding and celebrating the small but sublime moments in life. The older I get the more pleasure I take in the joy that can come from everyday encounters. I try to always be aware of opportunities to discover something or someone new, and when I do, it’s downright delightful. That’s why I’ve been wanting to share the story of some lovely experiences I’ve had lately right in my own neighborhood, at Cafe Fontana.
How long has it been since you, upon leaving your favorite neighborhood restaurant, received a big hug from the owner? That’s what I thought. But the hug I got from owner Valerie Schranz as I was leaving Cafe Fontana last Saturday night felt so warm and natural that I might have been leaving the home of some dear friends. It wasn’t until I got outside the restaurant that I realized “Hey! She hugged me!”
I have mentioned Cafe Fontana is this blog before, saying that is in in a restored old house and owned by a family that lives nearby. The building used to house a fast casual restaurant that seemed to want to be a neighborhood restaurant. I tried that place a few times, but it just didn’t work for me. Everything on the menu seemed to have creamed spinach; I just knew it came from some huge bag in their freezer. They were often out of the beers I ordered, and the waitresses didn’t seem nearly as upset about that as I was. I was disappointed because in our neck of the woods we have way too many chains with lackluster menus and service. I had hoped for a respite from that.
Finally one day I saw that the old restaurant sign was gone and replaced with a new one. Did I dare hope that this new establishment would be any improvement over the last? About that time I happened to see a short article about the place. which mentioned their intention to make customers feel welcome. I was sure they meant what they said, but I was a little skeptical; after all, the previous tenants had been quite friendly. But their food was not good.
Since I have now dined at Cafe Fontana several times I can say with authority that it exceeds it predecessor in so many ways that the two cannot even be compared. First, the physical space has been altered to add a small bar where patrons can see everyone who walks in the door. Beyond the front room, the acoustics have been improved by adding curtains at the windows and gentle flowing fountains. The changes add a sense of intimacy so lacking in the space while under previous owners.
And the food. I would not be writing this if the food were not fresh, delicious, unpretentious, and carefully prepared. I am afraid I will not do the restaurant justice if I try to talk about the entire menu. After all, I am an experience reviewer, not a restaurant reviewer. So just close your eyes and imagine fresh, warm bread served with a white bean puree spread and roasted garlic. Imagine a crisp, tangy salad made from local ingredients, followed by a filet so tender you can cut it with a fork, or plump scallops on a bed of pasta.
Add a bottle of wine or a glass of the house red, each very satisfying and reasonably priced. You will surely want to try a gelato or expresso flan for dessert.
I would not hesitate to take my own adult children there, which is saying something, as they have lived in such places as New York City and San Francisco, where excellent fare can be found everywhere.
But let’s move on to what makes an evening at Cafe Fontana so special, at least for me. When I walk in I feel I have escaped the normal passage of time, into a place where I can absolutely take my time and enjoy doing so. In an unspoken way I feel urged to slow down and enjoy the art of a well prepared meal and satisfying conversation. And isn’t this the way our evenings should be spent, in the moment, released from the daily stressors, recharging emotionally?
Last Saturday night my husband and I dropped in with no reservation. Mrs. Schranz, who actually remembered us from previous visits, explained that there would be a short wait. We didn’t mind; we could sit at the four seated bar and watch the comings and goings while having a glass of wine. As always, we felt welcomed by every staff person we encountered. When we went to our table Mrs. Schranz remarked we would be getting our “usual table.” How romantic!
And just as we expected, we had a long, slow, enjoyable evening that we could not have had elsewhere for miles around. Originally I went for the food, but now I go for the whole experience. I know I’ll be there for hours, and I’m glad. Cafe Fontana has made the luxury of an enchanting evening possible for all its visitors. I hope that wherever you are, there is a place like Cafe Fontana to take you in, pamper you, and send you out with a hug. You know you need it.