A visit to the new Harmony Café is an architectural trip to the past and a culinary journey to upscale, modern Italy.
Giovanni Grillenzoni is from Modena — home of the legendary balsamic vinegar and birthplace of world-famous tenor Luciano Pavarotti — but the chef/café-owner has been in this country for almost 30 years, having started his U.S. culinary career in Long Beach in December 1983.
He now lives and works in tiny Harmony. “I love it,” he said in an accent that still reflects his upbringing. “This is my town, my home now.”
His café operates in the historic building’s previous saloon area, snuggled up to the former restaurant site, which is undergoing some changes.
According to Aarika Wells, who has been a Harmony resident and spokeswoman for years, the owners of the one-block downtown area have been gradually making improvements there, complying with requirements of the county’s Planning and Building Department, which had determined that parts of the century-old building were structurally unsafe.
A contractor is preparing to tear down two walls of the larger restaurant site in order to upgrade the remaining historic building that used to house creamery operations in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Owner James Mehdizadeh confirmed that some recent rumors and writings that said Harmony is for sale are inaccurate. Wells said there are new restrooms, and other improvements are in the works.
The petite café’s seasonal menu is based on ingredients Grillenzoni loves best, prepared in his favorite ways. He uses produce from local farmers markets and ingredients from all over the world. Each dish is delicately seasoned to accent the natural flavors of its components.
The café owner does it all, from baking and cooking and washing the dishes to waiting on the few tables and dreaming up the next day’s menu based on what’s fresh, what’s best and what tickles his fancy.
This isn’t fast food, in spicing or speed. Each dish is cooked to order, although some advance prep is done (as it would be by any skilled chef). Grillenzoni also makes each cup of coffee or espresso to order, with freshly ground beans and a French press.
The menu includes unusual soups, salads, sandwiches and entrees. Among offerings one recent day were an eggplant burger with goat cheese, tomato caramelized onion and pesto sauce and a salad of greens topped with lightly prepared, still-warm shrimp, bay scallops, tiny calamari and mussels.
Grillenzoni said he’s already built a growing cadre of regular customers, and reaction to his cooking has been enthusiastic.
The café is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 2177 Old Creamery Road. For details, call 924-1219.
Harmony Café menu items include several with a vegetarian slant. Here are some samples from a previous week’s menu:
- Cauliflower-celery soup with ginger;
- Salad of asparagus, new potatoes, basil, mushrooms, teardrop tomatoes, mixed greens, red onions, goat cheese and white balsamic dressing;
- Eggplant burger with chevre cheese, caramelized onion, tomato and pesto sauce with mixed greens;
- Caprese salad with heirloom tomatoes, fresh bufala mozzarella, basil and extra virgin olive oil.
- Also a grilled chicken entrée and a prosciutto panini.