A welcome taste of Italy in downtown Benicia

“Life will only change when you become more committed to your dreams than you are to your comfort zone.” -Billy Cox

Now that signs of spring, like budding flowers, new grass, and flowering trees, are brightening our landscape and winter is but a memory, it is time to try something fresh and different. There is a new Italian bistrot (the Italian word for “bistro”) and Italian market in town that really fills the bill. Husband and wife, Massimo Biatta and Sonia Giovanazzi, and their two teenage sons, Lorenzo and Giacomo, decided to transform their lives in Milan by moving to Benicia, and opening a bistrot/coffee shop/market here, on D Street. Their concept store, Amore Bistrot, is located on the ground floor of the Inn at Benicia Bay, owned by longtime Benicians, and friends and partners of the Biattas, Dennis and Tracee Varni. In 2015, Massimo and Sonia spent their summer holiday with Dennis and Tracee in Benicia and fell in love with our picturesque waterside town and the warmth of our community. They arrived here from Milan on the last day of February, 2020, just ahead of the pandemic that shuttered dining establishments and travel, nationwide.

Like all of us, Massimo, Sonia and their sons were unprepared for the lifestyle changes, health risks, and business shutdowns that occurred in March 2020, but sometimes you just have to play the cards that you are dealt. After 9 months of renovation and permitting and delays and more waiting, Amore Bistrot was able to open and offer real Italian food to-go, and its charming market offers the same imported Italian wines, Felicetti pasta, Caputo semolina and pasta flour, olive oil, Mulino Bianco treats and Italian roasted coffee beans served at their bistrot. Beautiful gift baskets representing the various areas of Italy are also available and very popular.

Even though Massimo’s vision for his bistrot has been modified due to pandemic regulations, his intention of serving food that you would enjoy at a friend’s home is still very much alive.

According to Massimo, a bistrot is a small or unpretentious bar or tavern that serves food and alcoholic beverages. Amore Bistrot, with its full liquor license, was intended to be a place for patrons to come and enjoy Italian comfort food and relax after a long day with drinks, aperitivos, to whet their appetite, and well made fare and finger food that reflects the seasonal local produce available on a given day. Truly an Italian experience. The menu changes frequently according to the gastronomical whim of Massimo, the chef.

Patio at Amore Bistrot

Currently, Amore Bistrot is open every day from 9-2. Once indoor dining is allowed again, the owners wish to extend their hours; but for the time being, breakfast, lunch and takeout will have to suffice. The breakfast offerings include espresso and other coffee drinks made from their blend of select coffee beans roasted in Italy, and shipped here. Specialties include cornetti, an Italian version of a croissant. It is a scrumptious, flaky pastry that can be enjoyed with assorted imported European jams. Choices also include bomboletti, a cream filled, or Nutella filled donut creation typical of Emilia Romagna, and currently on weekends, rose di’ mele, a delicious pastry with fresh apple and shaped like a rose.

My personal favorite is Cannoli Siciliani, made with Italian ricotta cheese. The unbelievably yummy cream filling has Guittard chocolate chips mixed in, and chopped pistachios, typical of Sicily, embedded on one end of the cannoli. On the other end of the cannoli are Amarena di Vignola, hand-picked black cherries that have been gently preserved in a delectable syrup. American style maraschino cherries pale in comparison. Paired with a hot cup of Italian coffee, the Cannoli Siciliani are made to order, and one of the best things on the menu.

Lunch and takeout items are available and include gnocchi in a variety of daily sauces, including an amazing Gorgonzola cream sauce, two types of lasagna, one with a bolognese meat sauce and the other with a pesto and béchamel sauce, and green beans, an original recipe from Genoa. Also available is Scottish smoked salmon with mozzarella and vegetables. An Italian charcuterie assortment of sliced meats are available as well as an assortment of authentic Italian cheeses like burrata, mozzarella ovoline, and Asiago and fontina. Freshly made salads with innovative toppings are also available. Family meal-sized trays of lasagna and other Italian specialties are perfect for your next dinner or gathering, and are sure to please.

We locals are lucky that the Biatta family decided to settle here in our city, and share their exciting and tantalizing Italian culture and cuisine with us. We anticipate the day that Amore Bistrot can be more open to share the Italian experience with us, not just their food. For now, great, wholesome Italian comfort food will have to hold us over.   Milan’s loss is certainly Benicia’s gain!