Cindy and I had decided to go back up to historic downtown Galena at some point in the summertime after our visit there over her birthday back in December. While the downtown was all lit up and festive for the Christmas holiday, we decided we'd like to go back up some Saturday afternoon when the weather was warm, walk the streets, then have dinner at one of the restaurants the town has to offer. I'd known about Vinny Vanucchi's from reviews and talking to people who had eaten there in the past. While most of the people I'd talked to and from the reviews I read tabbed the restaurant as very good, I still had a little bit of trepidation about going there. Something just kept telling me it was more of a tourist trap than anything. But Cindy wanted to go there, so we ended up dining there one night earlier this summer.
Vinny Vanucchi's is part of the CoCo Enterprises group of restaurants that are owned by Jack and Deb Coulter. In addition to Vinny Vanucchi's, the Coulters also run One Eleven Main in downtown Galena, and Frank O'Dowd's Irish Pub which is connected to The Irish Cottage boutique hotel they own and run with Jack's cousin Basil Conroy on the east side of Galena. Vinny Vanucchi's opened in 1992 in historic downtown Galena. A second Vinny's restaurant is scheduled to open this month in Dubuque, IA.
Many of Vinny Vanucchi's recipes are family recipes from Deb Coulter's side of the family which was part Italian. Deb's grandmother Lucille LaCorte Finnen was a second-generation Sicilian who was born in Chicago in the mid-20's. Deb's family lived below "Nana Lu" and she remembers the great smells of Italian/Sicilian food that her grandmother would cook when Deb was a little girl. Deb took many of those handed-down family recipes and turned them into the basics of the main menu at Vinny Vanucchi's today.
Chef Robin Fleetwood is the executive chef at Vinny Vanucchi's bringing years of experience to the kitchen at Vinny's. Fleetwood grew up in the Midwest and learned how to cook at an early age from his mother. As a couple stints in the Navy as a cook aboard a naval vessel, Fleetwood traveled the world learning about different types of cuisine. Upon his discharge from the Navy, Fleetwood went to cooking school and became a full-fledged chef. Fleetwood makes the food at Vinny's from scratch, using only the freshest ingredients in his food. He features a series of "seasonal items" on his menu, procuring locally grown items during the course of the year.
Vinny Vanucchi's is located on Main Street in downtown Galena, situated on a hillside with steps that go up to the restaurant (see map). Actually, the back of Vinny's abuts up to S. Bench Street and parking is more readily available on that street than on Main Street. We parked up on Bench Street and took the steps down to Vinny's hostess stand. They feature outdoor seating at Vinny's, but the tables were full that nice evening. Our hostess took us to the upper level of Vinny Vanucchi's and we were seated at a table against a brick wall in a small dining area that featured three four-person booths and three two-person tables.
The dining room was uncomfortably warm. Our waiter came around with a basket of Vinny's signature Italian bread with infused garlic oil and Cindy told him that she thought the room was awfully warm. For Cindy to say that - she's perpetually cold even when it's 72 degrees outside - the room was almost unbearable for me. He said, "Yes, it does seem to be a little warm up here. I believe it was getting too cold for some patrons earlier and we may have shut down the air conditioning. Let me go check on that."
As we sweated while we looked through the menu, Cindy took a piece of the Italian bread with the infused garlic oil. She said, "Oh, my God! This is great bread!" And it was. We made short work of the basket of bread - there were only like four pieces in the basket. But we were careful not to order any more right away so it wouldn't fill us up before the main entree hit the table.
I looked through the wine list which wasn't extensive and was sort of mediocre. We both decided we were going to get something with a tomato sauce for the evening's meal and I ordered up a bottle of the Chateau St. Jean Cabernet, a medium-priced wine out of the Sonoma Valley vineyards.
Actually, the dinner menu at Vinny's was far from pedestrian with a number of Italian dishes to choose from. The menu featured eight different types of fettuccine dishes, baked and stuffed pasta dishes, different types of chicken and veal entrees and a handful of house specialties such as Seafood Italiano - a "Nana Lu" inspired dish that featured s