Bella Familia—All in the Familia

May 2014 View more


Photos by Greg Shappes


Few things are more traumatic for a tight-knit community than the departure of a long-time neighbor. The memories remain, but when something that was always there just suddenly isn’t, things are never quite the same.

Much to the credit of the family behind Café Buonaro’s, this was the exact feeling that many patrons had when the venerable Naperville hideaway decided to close down in late 2013 after almost a quarter century of dishing out Italian favorites from an inconspicuous corner of the hulking Fifth Avenue Station complex. Businesses are not quite the same as neighbors, of course, but a good restaurant can come close, and Buonaro’s had certainly worked its way into that discussion for many Naperville residents.

The New Neighbors

NMAG0514_Dining_MG_0074_800pxSo there may have been a bit of bittersweet skepticism among Buonaro believers upon learning their little corner spot was being assumed by another Italian eatery. On the one hand, if the new place turned out to be a winner, the net effect in terms of dining options would be a push as one great Italian joint moved out, and another moved in. On the other hand, though, there might have been the uneasy feeling that some interloper was coming in to try and replace a restaurant that had built up its hard-earned goodwill over tens of years and thousands of meals. That’s the kind of thing that doesn’t always sit well. After all, just because the new neighbor dresses like Bill Johnson, and drives the same car, and mows his lawn the same way, it doesn’t make him Bill Johnson.


But the Bella Familia plan was pretty clear all along. Yes, we’re going to be our own place, but just like you, we loved a lot of things about Café Buonaro’s too. In fact, it was an extension of the Buonauro family that took over the old place, changing up a few things here and there, but keeping much the same as well. So, those menu boards on the wall? They stay. Some of the staff, including one of the Buonauro daughters and one of the chefs? They’re part of the new place too. The cozy feeling, the welcoming atmosphere, the exposed brick-and-timber? Check, check, and check.

Carry On

The Buonaro’s bonanza extends even beyond the décor and general aesthetic of Bella Familia. Order any entrée off of those handwritten menu boards and the accompanying house salad in the classic Buonaro’s Italian dressing is a ticket right back to the old days. Even that entrée choice itself, such as the chicken marley or the legendary baked spaghetti, both popular selections among the seemingly familiar crowd on the night we visited, might be a holdover.

NMAG0514_Dining_MG_0098_800pxHowever, we decided to concentrate on some of the newer aspects of the menu, and in both cases Bella Familia proved the merits of its own developing identity. After a couple of rounds of warm, delicious bread and those throwback house salads, the Farfalle a la Mikey was a mushroom-studded delight, laced with sun-dried tomatoes and bathed in a balsamic cream sauce that lent the dish a hint of sweetness. On the other side of the table, the Shrimp and Scallop Florentine wasn’t looking to wow anyone with the volume of seafood in the bowl—this was not one of those count-to-make-sure-you-got-all-your-shrimp deals—but rather, with its overall combination of flavors, the few massive shrimp and chunky scallops wading amid the spinach and light cream were more than doing their job.

No, this was not a night at Buonaro’s, despite some of the familiar trappings. But if Bella Familia is the new Bill Johnson, there probably won’t be many complaints in the neighborhood.

Bella Familia
300 E. 5th Avenue