Some children want to be firefighters, movie stars or astronauts. Tina Del Santo wanted to open a restaurant.
“My whole life, that’s what I’ve wanted,” said Del Santo, now 30. “I took culinary classes in high school. I went to college for it. I love making drinks and running the house and coming up with specials and everything. It’s my favorite thing.”
Last June, when Del Santo and her partner, Anthony Jackovino, opened Delvino’s Grill and Pasta House, a new eatery on Main Street in Belfast, she got her wish. The restaurant, a fusion of Italian inspired dishes and unique twists on traditional recipes, is a welcome addition to the vibrant downtown scene.
Formerly the location of Lily, Lupine and Fern, Del Santo and Jackovino spent most of the spring painstakingly renovating the space. Jackovino, a carpenter, installed a large bar and comfortable booths, and decked out the place in warm, rustic browns and earth tones. It opened June 15, and quickly has developed a following.
“It has been better than our expectations,” said Del Santo. “We’ve been even busier than we expected. We cross our fingers every day, but so far, so good. We wanted to make sure our prices didn’t break the bank for us, but could be affordable for everyday people who want a really good meal and who love food as much as we do.”
Their early patrons come back for, first and foremost, the food, cooked by young chef Jake Grass, a 23-year-old Johnson & Wales University graduate and Belfast native. Though the Chicken Marsala and Eggplant Parmesan are popular items, the special dishes such as Mushroom Sacchetti, featuring loads of fresh mushrooms and a luscious cream sauce, have been customer favorites. All pasta dishes use fresh pasta as well as home-cooked sauces. Nonpasta dishes abound as well, such as a deeply flavorful portabella mushroom cap topped with melted asiago cheese, crispy bacon and very high-quality balsamic vinegar.
Though not every item on the menu is locally sourced, Del Santo is sure to get her meat and fish from Maine, as well as many of her vegetables.
“We try to keep it as local as possible,” she said. “Our beef is local, our fish is local. We have a haddock bruschetta pasta on the menu that is a fresh tomato topping over pan-seared, locally caught haddock, served over fettuccini. That’s a best-seller, for sure. We also make sure we have vegetarian and gluten-free items.”
Not every food item is Italian, however. A Japanese-inspired salad called the Wasabi Lady, featuring lightly seared tuna, roasted almonds and red peppers and a powerful wasabi aioli, is one of Del Santo’s favorites, as is the Cajun chicken. A number of pizzas are on the menu, and instead of using a traditional pizza oven, Chef Grass grills the pie, creating a crispy yet chewy crust that’s cooked in minutes.
Del Santo and Jackovino are two of a number of age-30-and-under business owners in downtown Belfast. Del Santo hopes the prevalence of new, energized businesses will keep the ongoing revival of the downtown area on the right track.
“The more there is in Belfast, the happier everyone’s going to be,” she said. “If we can become a part of the community here, I’m thrilled.”
Delvino’s Grill and Pasta House, located at 52 Main St. in Belfast, is open 4-9 p.m. Mondays, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursday and Sundays, and 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. For information, call 338-4565, or visit them on Facebook.