Nelson Mendonca loves Italian food.
“Just the way that they use raw ingredients and how they combine different flavours. They’ll take a tomato, add other spices, add some meat and then all of a sudden you have a great meal,” said the co-owner of Revelstoke’s newest restaurant Isabella’s.
Mendonca and his wife Vittoria opened Isabella’s at the end of January where Claudio’s used to be, culminating a 10-year dream to open their own restaurant.
“It’s just something I’ve always wanted to do from day one in the industry,” he told the Times Review in an interview at the new restaurant.
Isabella’s opened with relatively little fanfare on Jan. 27 after a month of extensive renovations. Since then, the two owners said they’ve been busy every day and have received lots of positive feedback.
Nelson and Vittoria both have a long history in Revelstoke, the latter being born here and Nelson moving here from Portugal when he was only three months old. Aside from a stint when Nelson worked at a restaurant in Calgary, they’ve lived in Revelstoke their entire lives.
They bought the restaurant after Nelson spent two years as chef and co-owner of Zala’s Restaurant.
The restaurant was named after their eight-year-old daughter, who enjoyed a small pizza during the interview and claimed (with a bit of bias) that her father makes the best pizza in town. They’ve divided the duties – Nelson runs the kitchen while Vittoria runs the front of the restaurant.
The menu features a variety of Italian staples, including numerous pizzas and pastas, a selection of entrees and a wide selection of appetizers, They’ve taken Claudio’s old menu, removed some of the non-Italian items, modified the recipes and added a few new items like prawns and mussels marinara.
The appetizers include foccacia, bruschetta and antipastos Italiana. There’s also several salads on offer.
Among the pastas, there’s classics like spaghetti, ravioli, lasagna, fettucini alfredo and baked canneloni. The pizzas include meat lovers, cheese lovers, pepperoni and ham & pineapple. For entrees, there’s chicken and veal cutlets, chicken and veal parmesan, BBQ ribs, steak and more.
“We’re keeping it more authentic Italian as opposed to a bit of everything for everybody,” said Vittoria.
Nelson’s love of cooking dates back to his youth. He learned from his mother as well as Vittoria’s Italian grandmother.
“When I first started dating my wife, meeting her grandma and eating that food, that was something I wanted to keep going,” he said.
The Mendonca’s goal was to create a restaurant that appealed to both families and couples.
In addition to the food, they gave the space a whole new look. A long bench now lines one of the walls with tables placed all along it. The idea is to encourage conversations amongst strangers by having them sit next to each other.
“We wanted to make it not fine dining but not casual,” said Vittoria. “We wanted to appeal to as many people as possible – keep it a family restaurant but also make it a nice place to come for dinner.”
The Mendoncas had help from friends and family, they said. “A lot of family sweat and blood, literally blood,” added Nelson. Most of the material used in the renovations was local.
Isabella’s is located at 206 Mackenzie Ave. It is open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.