Owner and chef Guy Vespi enjoys rays of sunshine through large windows and the warmth of a fireplace on a cold winter day at Bella Vista in Little Falls.
By Dusten Rader
Just outside the city awaits a restaurant with a beautiful view worth discovering.
Bella Vista – Italian for beautiful view – features delicious freshly-made eats at the base of Shu-Maker Mountain.
Owners Guy and Cindy Vespi opened the restaurant and bar in 1990 during the height of popularity for skiing on Shu-Maker Mountain. Although the sparkling multi-colored lights that once illuminated the mountain for night-time skiing adventures have gone out, Guy’s passion for providing from-scratch meals for friends and family has burned into its 30th year.
“We sat on the porch when we first bought the building and said, ‘what a great view this is.’ Being Italian, we said, ‘what’s that in Italian?’ It’s Bella Vista,” Guy said. “We try to put that on our plate also, I mean the dishes look good because we take pride in our presentation and how we cook the food here.
“We haven’t changed in 29 years, and anybody who is a good customer here knows that,” Guy continued. “It makes you feel good that we had customers come in with their kids, and now their kids are customers and bringing their kids. This is the kind of business where you get to know everybody – they become your family.”
Guy’s desire to cook began at a young age and was fostered by jobs at various area restaurants such as the Crystal Chandelier Restaurant in Middleville. He earned an education from Johnson & Wales College of Culinary Arts in Providence, Rhode Island, and perfected his skill as a chef before deciding it was time to start his own.
“The more I worked for other people, the more I wanted to own my own place and that’s what we did here,” Guy said. “I met Cindy and we said, ‘Let’s do it for ourselves.’ Now it’s history two kids later and 29 years.”
The choice was clearly the right one and it shows in the quality of the meals at Bella Vista. To Guy, providing something beautiful wasn’t just about the view, it was about creating food with the same mentality. Fortunately, Guy is passing on his knowledge to sous-chef Brandon McIntyre.
“When I walk through the door it’s like being home,” Guy said. “People come here to be happy – food makes people happy – it makes me happy, that’s why I’m a chubby chef.”
Some chefs might be disappointed if their guests ordered the same meal every time they came, but to Guy, that’s a huge compliment. One of the most popular items on the menu – beef tenderloins with green peppercorn sauce – happens to be a recipe he created and was the first dish he ever cooked for Cindy. The sautéed filet medallions are covered with green peppercorns and shallots before being finished with brandy and cream.
The menu, a combination of recipes developed by Guy as well as some he adapted from his mother, is primarily Italian. Another popular item is named after her – veal Louise – which is pan sautéed before being topped with tomato, garlic, and shallots then finished with white wine.
For those feeling like trying something other than their favorite menu item, Guy creates weekly specials that are served Wednesday through Saturday. Always on special is a fresh fish, such as a pan sautéed Haddock filet topped with green onions, mushrooms, and Julienne of carrot, and finished with a white wine butter sauce. Plus, every entrée is served with a plate of roasted peppers, fresh bread, a salad and choice of pasta or potato.
Other examples of weekly specials include Surf n’ turf, charbroiled New York Strip Steak topped with four jumbo shrimp and sautéed mushrooms; oven-baked tortelloni, fresh pasta filled with cheese in a sweet sausage and plum tomato sauce topped with mozzarella.
Guy advises table guests to make a reservation at least a day in advance by calling after noon, although day-of calls and walk-ins will be accepted depending on availability.
“Don’t be in a hurry because everything is cooked to order and nothing is premade,” Guy said.
Everything is made in house at Bella Vista, including the sauces and salad dressings. Guy’s take on a regional favorite – a pink vodka sauce – is less spicy than Utica’s and his marinara is made fresh in a pan. Don’t think a salad isn’t gourmet, because Guy’s famous bleu cheese will blow your mind. Other dressing favorites include Thousand Island and raspberry vinaigrette.
For those looking for a more low-key experience than fireside fine dining, a bar menu is also available. The menu ranges from burgers to chicken sandwiches, grilled shrimp or chicken salads, and fried shrimp. The most popular item at the bar is Bella Vista’s Famous Fish Sandwich, a fresh filet of haddock lightly breaded and pan-fried served on a ciabatta roll with lettuce, onion, tomato, homemade tartar sauce and served with sautéed potatoes.
Although it might be tough, save room for a homemade dessert such as cheesecake, strawberry shortcake, chocolate brownie a la mode, and a variety of parfaits.
Another way to experience Bella Vista without making a commitment is to stop by for Wine Down Wednesdays. All house glasses of wine are $4 from 5-8 p.m., including favorites such as the red Montepulciano or white Pinot Grigio.
Those who enjoy beer or liquor also have much to enjoy, including a selection of New York beers such as Southern Tier IPA, Ommegang and Brown’s. A mixed cocktail is also on special each week, such as the Harvey Wallbanger, which is a modern twist on a screwdriver with vodka, orange juice, and Galliano Italian liqueur. Or, don’t hesitate to ask bartender Carly Proulx to mix up something special.
In addition to the food, the atmosphere is a unique experience. Guy and Cindy have created an Adirondack country-style theme complete with exposed original wooden beams, two glowing original fireplaces, an assortment of antiques such as bottles and vintage steins, and large windows because it’s worth looking outside just as much as in.
The more than 200-year-old building has quite a history, including being owned by the well-known dentist Dr. Love. Love’s son eventually renovated the farmhouse to make it into a nightclub called the Love Inn, which was wildly successful in the 1970s as a place to see live music while enjoying drinks and food. A 1976 Love Inn Music Festival poster hangs near the bar.
“It’s an oasis here,” Guy said. “From Syracuse to Albany, people use this as a meeting place.”