401 W. High Street Bellefonte, PA 16823
By Serge Bielanko
In Rome, they do it different.
Same in Venice, and in Milan and Florence and Pavia. All across the Tuscan hills and up into the Alpine villages, on the old sun blistered alleyways of Sicily, along the narrow steep paths of Cinque Terra, they do it differently. In Italy, they walk among the ruins of ancient civilizations dressed in modern style.
And they do not...I repeat, they DO NOT...eat greasy overcooked English muffin carcasses stuffed with lamp-lit 'sausage' egg and cheese from a gas station incubator for breakfast. And they don't wash down that heartburn pill with coffee that tastes like a pint of Dale Junior's old motor oil.
In Italy, in Italia, as morning unfolds and the world begins anew, the people pop into tiny corner cafes for cappuccino and cornetti or brioche, determined to start their day the same light way that their ancestors did a thousand years ago long before the McMuffin stormed our shores and jumped down our mystified throats. Which brings me to my lovely little point here, you hard-working good people of Centre County. Everything is about to change now.
Bonfatto's is bringing a little much-needed Italia back to Bellefonte. Months after they shut the doors on their restaurant out on Zion Road, David and Sherri Letterman have opened the doors of Bonfatto's Italian Market and Corner Cafe. And for legions of rise-and-shiners who have been scarffing down the culinary equivalent of a small cannonball out by the unleaded pumps for breakfast for as long as they can remember, well...this new joint will be offering something rarified and, dare I say, even dignified, to each and every one of us.
And that's the chance take the whole When-in-Rome thing and turn it into something better than we ever hoped for, the chance to stroll into a local cafe, right in downtown Bellefonte, (from now on, can we call it Bellefontia?!?!), smile and exclaim 'Buongiorno!' the busy family running the place behind the counter, and order up a cappucino or a cup of coffee made on like a world-class gleaming Londinium espresso machine, one of only two in all of the United States of America. This thing, it looks like the most art deco in the spaceship the galaxy come to land here in one of our cornfields. Visitors from the great beyond, come to teach us all about the truth and beauty of cafes like this.
Because that's what this place is, people.
It's a thing of beauty.
It's years of planning and designing and dreaming big and nervous nights trying to make it all become reality...finally landing at 401 W. High Street, literally a stone's throw from where owner David Letterman's ancestors once lived and worked. All blacks and whites, granite and brick, with tile borders on the hardwood floor that would remind even the most homesick Roman of the cafes back home, this place, when I ducked inside on Friday as they prepared to launch, it's the kind of small business that's folks around here deserve. I mean, you work your @$$ off, don't you? So who better than you to finally get a corner cafe where you can see people you know every morning, and grab things that taste divine and are made right there under that roof...not in a warehouse 200 miles away.
David Letterman is excited, of course. He and Sherri have tons riding on this. Beyond the normal hopes and needs of a new venture in a dicey biz, the Bonfatto's have a more soulful connection to the success of this cafe and market. It is their return to the very streets of the very the town where Letterman's family once started a restaurant over a century ago. It's his torch now. And it can get heavy at times.
"You know, I get emotional," he tells me as we sit at one of the cafe's handcrafted wooden tables, workers bustling all around us. "The only pressure I really feel is the pressure I put on myself, but this place, it couldn't be anywhere else but here. It is where it needs to be."
The space itself is open and light. Sherri Letterman spent the past two years designing it all and it works. High ceilings and windows let the afternoon sky settle down inside as the two of us, grown men with families and more responsibilities than we probably thought we were signing on for as younger lads, we stand there in all that new paint and empty black boards just waiting to be chalked up with today's specials, and we stare at a fat log of lovely Mortadella together.
We stop speaking for a minute.
There really aren't a lot of words you can say, you know?
People either get what this all means or they don't. But this is magic. Letterman is about to start slinging imported prosciutto and real deal mozzarella to us if we want it. Like South Philly's legendary Italian Market, like old Brooklyn, like Pittsburgh's Strip District, like little shops all over Italy, this Bonfatto's is something entirely different than anything we have known around these parts.
"We're going to feature local artists' work on the walls," he finally says, breaking the silence of the zone I'd slipped into. "And in the beginning, we'll ease into the breakfast end of things, then roll out more as we go along."
I nod, stare into the flirty eyes of a skinny bottle of DOC olive oil. "Hi there."
"I brought 9 staff with us from the old place," he adds. "And we'll be hiring two more."
I smile at him.
I daydream of eating the Mortadella.
He has to get back to work and I get it.
I look at the Londinium on my way out the door, all shining back there like the North Star. I wanted an espresso, but I have to wait. Not long though.
Now open. Grand Opening April 26-28th. Go. Treat yourself. It's been a long time coming.
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