Happen to be beachcombing for bolognese? Surfing for saltimbocca? Fishing for fettuccini? If so, check out Café Della Via Restaurant and Wine Bar in Cayucos. This unpretentious gem is hidden in plain sight on Ocean Avenue, just steps from the sand. The name translates to “street cafe,” and the bright, open space has a neighborhood trattoria feel as well.
Ample table seating is augmented by spots at the welcoming wine bar. Plus, there’s a gently flowing wall fountain and a soundtrack with just enough sprinkling of Sinatra to set the mood.
“I wanted a place that was reasonably priced and family-friendly enough to bring children, but still nice enough for a date or night out,” said owner Denise Hallmeyer, a veteran of 30 years in the restaurant business. Her experience ranges from managing a Tony Roma’s in Orange County to eight years as the wine manager for Café Della Via before taking it over herself in March 2010.
Hallmeyer softened up the décor and general ambiance of the café, and applied a similar touch to the menu.
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While signature dishes such as the eggplant Parmesan, veal saltimbocco, and the pizza Café Della Via with pepperoni and mushrooms remained the same, other dishes got slight refinements.
“We switched the eggplant lasagna to vegetable lasagna, for example,” she said. “It’s still got eggplant, but now spinach and sun-dried tomatoes as well. We also added the antipasto salad, stuffed portabella mushroom cap, and pasta primavera — that was actually the suggestion of a guest who wanted a lighter dish.”
Hallmeyer noted that another such favorite is the pasta del mare, which is “seafood (shrimp and clams) with lots of fresh veggies in a light garlic wine sauce, not a cream sauce. Our kitchen staff loves to be creative with things like that.”
Other lighter dishes on the menu include Caesar salad with or without anchovies, linguini and clams, and chicken piccata (though you can get that over mashed potatoes instead of pasta).
However, Café Della Via definitely delivers on hearty plates as well — from rustic garlic bread with parmesan to pizza arriabiata with cheese and sausage on house-made crust, from shrimp carbonara with tortellini and prosciutto to cheesy ravioli formaggio with a creamy marinara sauce, from a flat-iron steak with mushroom cream sauce to spaghetti and meatballs made with veal, beef and pork.
Of course, Italian food begs to be paired with wine, and — given Hallmeyer’s expertise — at Café Della Via you’ll be presented with a good range of very food-friendly labels.
Understandably for such a small establishment, the wine list isn’t extensive, but it’s focused and well thought out.
Her approach is to offer “mainly local wines or (out-of-the-area) wines that are a good value for people.” She also has two local beers on tap, Figueroa and Firestone, as well as bottled options.
All in all, Hallmeyer admits that her Café Della Via experience “has been a lot more work and details than I ever anticipated, even given all my years in the business. But it’s really fun. It’s like having a party in your house every night!”