Taste of Summmer: The Italian job

ScoopLawrence Dee | The Charlotte News

It’s Monday afternoon at La Villa Bistro & Pizzeria. Co-owner and front of the house manager Jill Spell takes pickup orders and welcomes new customers. Her husband and head chef, Adam Spell, talks with his kitchen staff about the new specials for the night, as well as what ingredients and produce are in stock. Soft Italian jazz plays over the speakers in the warmly lit interior of the dining room. The red and yellow walls are decorated with artwork and bottles of wine, cultivating the rustic Italian bistro atmosphere that La Villa has maintained since its origins back in 1995. The Spells moved to Charlotte shortly after opening La Villa, where they still currently live with their two children.

As customers begin to file in for dinner, the room starts to buzz with excited conversation and blissful laughter. Over this hum of excitement, Adam walks me through the menu and fills me in on the hot-ticket items of the summer, “The fettuccine Bolognese and Misty Knoll bourbon glazed chicken are flying off the shelf right now. Our pizza Provencal has always been popular.”

“Although we do have our popular items,” Adam says, “being in the restaurant business is about finding new ways to add depth and other dimensions to the menu and restaurant itself. A few years ago we expanded into the space next to our restaurant, opening our very own wine retail outlet, Enoteca. Not only that but last fall we started to make our own gelato.”

Jill later explained that, as they were looking for areas where La Villa could expand and broaden its horizons, adding gelato to the menu just seemed to make sense. “We were thinking of doing frozen yogurt; however, we wanted to keep the focus on an Italian-influenced dessert, and with gelato being a much healthier alternative to ice cream and other desserts, we began to research recipes and secrets to making a high-quality gelato.” After almost a year, the gelato menu now consists of up to 15 different flavors, including Oreo cookie, raspberry, and salted caramel.

“Our plan is to turn Enoteca into both an outlet for fine boutique wines, as well as a gelato shop. Customers will be able to watch the entire process of the gelato being made, from the ingredients being mixed and spun right in front of their eyes, all the way up to their favorite flavor being placed in a container and brought home for the rest of the family to enjoy,” said Adam as we walked through the adjacent building.

La Villa has also taken a step into the catering world, booking almost every weekend this summer for family parties and weddings around the greater Chittenden County. “We just recently catered a nonprofit event tied to the Maritime Festival in Burlington called, ‘Stand Up for the Lake,’ which was a huge success for us,” said Adam.

La Villa also features a 35-person private dining room, which has been used for a wide variety of events, including wedding rehearsals and graduation parties.

“Over the years we’ve had our regulars. Families who come time and time again. We’ve seen their kids grow up right here in front our eyes. Being able to offer them a memorable experience to celebrate their children’s high school or college graduation has been a truly special part of owning the restaurant for us,” explained Adam as he looked out the front windows of the now 20-year-old restaurant.

For Adam and Jill, La Villa has become a second home, spending a majority of their time working towards developing and maintaining the success which La Villa has seen over the past two decades. This dedication to fine Italian cuisine, along with the warm feeling that overcomes anyone who walks through the door, helps contribute to La Villa’s consistent customer basis as new faces, as well as old, continue to return, hungry for more.