Restaurant News & Reviews

Harmony Cafe offers a taste of Italy on the North Coast

The eggplant burger features caramelized onions, tomato, goat cheese and pesto at Harmony Cafe.
The eggplant burger features caramelized onions, tomato, goat cheese and pesto at Harmony Cafe.

The tiny town of Harmony is singing with some big notes of flavor thanks to Giovanni Grillenzoni and his seasonal menus at Harmony Café.

A master chef who has worked the past 30 years in the United States, mainly in California, Grillenzoni likes to say that “Harmony found me.” He opened his café on Dec. 29, 2012, after about a year of having a portion of the historic creamery building renovated.

You order your meal inside at the counter in the main part of the café, then relax at one of a couple tables there or outside in the tranquil shaded gardens. Grillenzoni also recently took over an adjacent indoor space, which is now decorated in such a way that you’ll think you’ve been transported to a small village café in his native Italy.

The Mediterranean-inspired menu at Harmony Café changes frequently, “about every week to 10 days,” said Grillenzoni. “It depends on what I find.” He frequents three farmers markets weekly: in Cambria, Morro Bay and Baywood Park.

“I use only organic produce and free-range, hormone-free chicken,” he said, adding that he also prefers to work with small producers, be they local or those he uses for the select items he imports from Italy. From there, “everything is made from scratch,” including daily-baked goods such as croissants and brownies.

Harmony Café is open daily for lunch and for dinner on Friday and Saturday. About eight or nine items are available, typically sandwiches, soups, salads and a couple heartier entrées.

Among the most popular sandwiches have been imported prosciutto cotto (an Italian dry-cured ham) and arugula on a baguette, a grilled chicken with brie cheese on a ciabatta roll, and the eggplant “burger” with goat cheese and basil pesto, for which Grillenzoni peels the eggplant, marinates it and then bakes it with herbs.

Daily soups are usually nondairy and have included an organic carrot/kale and a butternut squash topped with crispy sage. Other menu items have ranged from a lemon chicken salad with heirloom tomatoes, to a plate of imported bresaola (air-dried salted beef) and mozzarella di bufula (a traditional buffalo milk cheese), to an angel hair pasta dish topped with imported bottarga (a salted, cured fish roe).

For entrées, you might find such items as baked rack of lamb atop potato polenta or wild salmon baked in puff pastry served with shrimp, spinach and spaghetti squash.

If you still have room for dessert, opt for a slice of house-made tiramisu or a couple scoops of imported Italian gelato, and the café also has a top-of-the-line espresso maker.

In addition to his embrace of seasonal fare, Grillenzoni’s overall approach to his menus is carefully thought out, even right down to the sandwich breads.

Though he isn’t yet making his own breads, he sources them from a local bakery and chooses “each one specifically for each sandwich. It has to match the ingredients inside, not take them over. Each of the flavors has to be ” — he paused with a smile before adding — “ in harmony.”