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Villa Balsamo's Opens its Gates
Southern Neapolitan Dining Available Nightly, Year-Round
SARATOGA SPRINGS – The once more-often-than-not locked gates of the upscale Villa Balsamo restaurant are standing open for unforgettable family-style dinners from 5 to 10 p.m. seven nights a week beginning the week of August 10.
The facility has been open for private functions over the last three years, but “Ralphie” Balsamo and his father, Joseph “J.B.” Balsamo, decided it was time to begin offering a full nightly restaurant showcasing the culinary talents of a family renowned for authentic Southern Neapolitan cooking.
“This is a place with a lot of people who have grown up with my father,” said Balsamo. “That’s very important. A lot of people miss his cooking. We want everyone to enjoy it here.”
Ralphie Balsamo makes no apologies for how long it has taken to open the restaurant for daily public use. He described the facility as a Sleeping Beauty. “You have to be very careful how you wake her up,” he said. “If she wakes up too fast, she could be angry. The timing has to be just right, slow and gentle for her beauty to really shine.”
The kitchen and operations will be led by the son, but when asked if it meant the senior Balsamo will enjoy some well-earned time to relax, Ralphie Balsamo answered, with some familial pride, “Him (sic) relaxing is him watching, smelling, tasting, seeing everything in the kitchen and throughout.”
Balsamo described his father’s arrival in the late 40’s, early 50’s to the U.S. beginning with J.B.’s landing in Norfolk, Virginia with the Merchant Marines and making his way to Brooklyn with his entire entourage. “Then he built an empire,” said Balsamo.
“When he saw this place,” said Balsamo, “it took him a year of driving up here from Brooklyn once a week and waiting for the owner to come out to collect his mail.” Joseph Balsamo successfully convinced the owner to sell, and Villa Balsamo began.
The man who runs the front of the house, head waiter Scott Urell, has been with the family since 2003. “This is a great facility,” he said. “The dining room is beautiful and the grounds are perfect for tents for weddings and parties. In future, there will be a bar in the basement and the upstairs will be rooms for a bed and breakfast.”
“Yes, we’re thinking of calling it the J. B. and B.,” laughed Ralphie Balsamo. “Some of these projects will be finishing up in the fall, but we are definitely open for dinner year-round. We have free WiFi, too, so you can come with your laptop and sit with a cup of cappuccino if you like. You don’t want family-style? Someone in the family want something different? No problem. All you gotta do is let us know what you want, and we’ll get it for you.”
As pricey as that level of service may sound on such expansive grounds in the high-end feel facility, the Balsamos intend to keep things affordable. “You can have a three-course dinner for two with wine for about a hundred dollars,” said Balsamo, “and still have food to take home with you.”
Workmen were still on the premises during the media preview tour on Tuesday August 4, putting the finishing touches on the refurbished and upgraded historic mansion boasting nine master rooms. The 14.5-acre site includes four ponds, natural springs, and a spectacular view from every window. The family intends the entire first floor suite to be available for weddings.
“There are many houses for weddings in the Capital Region,” said Balsamo, “but they don’t have the original 1931 Sleeping Beauty that we have. We want to be the event place of Saratoga. The groom’s family can be on one end, the bride’s on the other, and they can walk out the door onto these grounds – and let me tell you, at dawn this place is majestic – you’ll step out feeling like all this is yours,” indicating the beautiful grounds with a broad sweep of his arm. “What could be better than that?”
He is especially proud of the menu. “All the favorites will be there,” he said. “The baked clams, the shrimp oreganata, the fettuccine prosciutto, and ocean-friendly sea bass – everything’s ocean-friendly. We will even have gluten free pasta available. Do you know, we have no walk-in freezers? Don’t need even need them. Everything’s fresh.”
Balsamo was clear that he owes much to the Villa Balsamo team. “I’m not a chef, I’m a cook,” he said, “and I’m very lucky to have a team who is with me, from the front of the house to the dishwasher beside me. My father knew the importance of that – and I tell you this with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat – do you know what it takes for him to build something from the ground up and have it last? You need the right talent working with us, not for us, and that’s very important. I even have someone flying in from Naples. I’m not saying who just yet, but just know that we are very proud of our team and very excited about the future and being open year-round.”
For reservations, call (518) 885-3227.
Tenth Anniversary Celebrations To Last All Year
By Arthur Gonick
ROME – Every great Italian restaurant is like a love story. This restaurant began with one.
It was Sunday, August 27, 1992. At 1 p.m. in Rome, Italy. A young American tourist by the name of Nancy Washburn was in Rome for just that single day and looking for directions to the Sistine Chapel.
She stopped a random stranger on the street, who immediately called upon his Italian sense of chivalry and offered to escort her there personally. The man’s name was Giancarlo Balestra. It was, evidently, love at first sight. And they have been together ever since.
This chance meeting between the gentleman from Roma and the lady from Verona (New Jersey, that is) might never had happened if not for a lack of Scandinavian amusement.
Giancarlo explains: “I was in Sweden and it was boring. So I went home that very day. Nancy was truly my destiny,” he says beaming. “The best partner I could ever want.” And you can tell he means business, in addition to life.
Their romance embodies the spirit that people cannot help feel when they enter Limoncello Ristorante (1 Ballston Avenue, Saratoga Springs) – a feeling of a Northern Italian oasis from the stresses of the day. Get comfortable; you’re home with family.
La famiglia is enhanced with the recent return of Host Maurizio Nascimben, a long time friend and associate of the Balestra’s. “I came out of retirement for these two, but also for myself,” he said. Apparently, once it’s in your blood…
“I retired in 2007. Even got married to my beautiful bride, and we were fortunate to travel,” he explains. “But I started getting the ‘itch’; I expressed a great feeling of sadness about this to Nancy and Giancarlo. To my delight, they made me an offer, and I started the very next day.”
“Maurizio, to me, is the quintessential Italian gentleman in every sense of the word. He is the perfect host for Limoncello.” Nancy said.
Indeed, each of them bring superior skills to the table, which has given them a lifetime of restaurant success that has stretched through out the country to places like Aspen, CO and Winter Park, FL.
As one of the founders the highly successful Chianti when it opened on South Broadway in 1998, Giancarlo was delighted to come back with Nancy to Saratoga Springs in 2004 to start Limoncello. “There are great opportunities for restaurants in this area, and we were happy to reconnect with friends and family.” Giancarlo noted.
The restaurant moved to it’s current location in 2008, giving the Balestra’s more room to welcome diners inside two spacious indoor dining areas as well as outdoor garden seating when the weather is friendly. “We have many reasons to celebrate in our tenth year in Saratoga.” Nancy said. “In addition to Maurizio joining us, we have an enhanced energy about having our best track season ever.”
Look for that to be reflected in our menu, which is always transitioning to some extent.”
Giancarlo noted that some dishes he often features as specials, such as papardelle with Osso Buco, are becoming so popular that they may take a permanent spot on the menu. Based on the absolute feast they arrayed in front of Mark’s camera for this feature, I have no doubt that whatever they add will be winners.
To accompany all this, it must be noted that Limoncello sports one of the area’s most extensive wine lists, featuring the best from Italy and California, spiced up with some rare Tuscan vintages. But you haven’t lived until you have tried the signature drink: The Limoncello, naturally. Nancy personally mixes up each batch that is served.
And beginning next week, the Limoncello family is planning a yearlong series of celebrations to commemorate their tenth anniversary. Between October 15 and December 31, all gift certificates bought will receive a 10 percent discount.
Also, after the first of 2015, look for a ten week series of dining events that will be called ‘A Taste Of Italy’ in which a different region, such as Naples, will be featured each week from Sunday-Thursday with a moderately priced three-course meal. The specific menu details will be forthcoming.
But this is a place you can go to with confidence anytime, not only knowing that you will have great food, drink and atmosphere – but a unique experience. It’s the attention to the little things – like Nancy growing all the restaurant’s basil; Giancarlo’s culinary expertise and Maurizio’s warm greeting for everyone – it all adds up to something special.
La famiglia. Enjoy!
For more information, visit limoncelloristorante.com or phone (518) 580-8700.
Villago: The Good Times Roll Again
BALLSTON LAKE – A successful concept, a neighborhood restaurant and gathering place, perfected over time (and lots of TLC) in East Galway, has been adapted and transmitted to the shores of Ballston Lake.
Behold Villago Pizzeria and Ristorante. Its pedigree was established at Village Pizzeria on Route 29 as a Northern Italian cuisine icon since 1988, a place that nearby locals consider a mainstay and people from all over Saratoga County know is worth the drive. Owners Sandy Foster and Joe Guerrera have combined forces with Sharan and Kurt Zarnofsky on this project at 175 Lake Road in Ballston Lake.
While Sandy and Joe have tended to things in the kitchen and bar, the Zarnofsky’s have lent their expertise in the design and construction area.
The results of their hard work are nothing short of stunning. While elements of the previous restaurant are incorporated into the new design (such as the fireplace and the only public boat launch on Ballston Lake), the overall transformation has made the restaurant and dining area more open, spacious and inviting.
The view of Ballston Lake has been enhanced, with wall-to-wall windows making the lake seem brighter and more inviting than ever.
Of course, long time Village Pizzeria devotees would probably be glad eat to Sandy and Joe’s food standing up in a subway, but the extra ambiance certainly does have its appeal.
One decorative item behind the bar that will remind folks of Village Pizzeria is the 1940s vintage Bevador beer cooler. Joe found another one somehow in a garage in Troy and with some major restoration work has brought it back to its former glory.
But mostly it’s about the food. Many of your favorites are on what Sandy calls “the soft menu.” Several of the signature pizzas, of course. But also Aracini (pesto and mozzarella stuffed risotto balls), calamari, hand made pastas and bread and homemade sauce everywhere.
But this soft menu is just a prelude - an amuse-bouche if you will. The expanded menu will be revealed as part of the grand opening festivities on the weekend of April 3, complete with a formal ribbon cutting and what promises to be a festive party atmosphere.
“Our patrons have embraced us since we opened on March 10. They’ve been dying for this to happen, and we are thrilled.” Sandy Foster noted. “We’ve been busy every night.”
“But we also know how lucky we are.” She said. “We know how important this restaurant is to the community, with its history and being a focal point of activity in the town of Ballston Lake. We are here to embrace that special feeling people have for this place, and to work in concert with them to continue the tradition, and hopefully enhance it.”
So, let the good times roll again!
For more information and reservations, phone Villago Pizzeria and Ristorante at (518) 280-0311 or visit facebook.com/VillagoPizzeria.
Tinney’s Tavern Is Back
- New Owners Revive Sports Enthusiast’s Paradise
MIDDLE GROVE – A beloved institution among snowmobilers, outdoor enthusiasts and fans of “just good times” has returned. After a year of being idle, Tinney’s Tavern, at 450 Lake Desolation Road in Middle Grove, is back up and running, with new ownership that had barely little time to catch their breath since taking over late last month.
“We are fortunate to be near the Mulleyville and Galway snow trail systems,” said new co-owner Kevin Joyce. “The snowmobilers saw the flurry of activity and couldn’t wait for us to get opened again. Fortunately for us, the previous owner left the place in excellent shape.” So with some hard work overnight (an a tap-line cleaning assist from Saratoga Eagle) after officially taking ownership on February 28, Tinney’s was open for business the next day.
“We had a fantastic turnout the first two weekends, especially since we only had time to rely on word of mouth,” said co-owner Brian Brumley, who is also a co-owner of the Spring Street Deli in Saratoga Springs. The Brumley’s also own Saratoga Wine & Spirits.
If you haven’t been there yet, a perfect time to make plans is for next weekend’s (March 21-22) grand re-opening festivities, which will have a variety of giveaways from both Saratoga Eagle and Empire Merchants spirits, and a performance from Southern rocker’s HyTyde on Saturday, March 22 at 10 p.m.
The new owners have many plans in the works, which generally revolve around the concept of the word “expanded” as in, expanded food, beverage and music offerings that remain faithful to the concept of what made Tinney’s Tavern a great place to be year-round, while throwing a few extra things into the mix that will serve to put their personal stamp on things.
While certain plans are not ready to reveal at this time, expect that the new owners of Tinney’s Tavern are quite aware that they have 200 feet of waterfront and plan to develop promotions that capitalize on it.
In the meantime, Brian Brumley was excited about the idea of owning a special place, in a special place:
“We both are outdoorsmen and a big part of us buying the property was to cater to outdoor enthusiasts in a family friendly environment. “ He said. “ With both of us having young families we look forward to having them grow up in the beautiful foothills of the Adirondack Park. Tinney's has been around since the 1940s and has a lot of great history. We would like to carry on the tradition by offering fair priced quality food to the locals and visitors who come up to enjoy all the seasons.”
For more information about the new Tinney’s Tavern, visit facebook.com/tinneystavern or phone (518) 450-1066.
Will Build Again: Augie’s Begins Fundraiser for Employees
BALLSTON SPA — The owner of a popular area restaurant that burned to the ground last Monday has started an online fundraiser to help his employees who are out of job.