The dining room at Baonecci, a newly opened Italian restaurant in Frisco, Texas, is molto bene right now.
This San Francisco transplant has only been open a couple weeks, but the place is nearly full on this Friday night, crackling with the kind of giddy electricity that so often accompanies the opening of something new.
Walter Gambaccini, owner and host, seems to light up every time a new party enters. His son Elia, who manages the front of the house, glides from dining room to kitchen and back.
Elia’s brother, Filippo, and their mother, Stefania, work back-to-back in the kitchen, stirring risotto frutti di mare and rolling out the restaurant’s signature Roman-style crackly-thin crust pizzas.
The Gambaccinis took a gamble when they left their snug berth in North Beach—a neighborhood where they’d been celebrated as a local treasure for 16 years. Nevertheless, they felt like San Francisco’s onerous bureaucracy was stifling their family business. Seeking a more business-friendly environment, they relocated to Frisco, a northern suburb of Dallas where authentic Italian restaurants are few and far between.
Until recently, Italian restaurants were far from a sure thing in Dallas, where the prevailing attitude used to be why pay for house-made pasta when you can just boil dried noodles from the grocery store and top it with bottled marinara?
But Dallas-Fort Worth has seen an influx of new residents in recent years. And with a cluster of Italian natives serving more authentic Italian fare, the prospects for a place like Baonecci suddenly looked more promising.
Locals like Leonardi Pinasi have helped.
Pinasi hails from La Spezia, a town about 50 miles from the Gambaccinis’ native Lucca in the Tuscany region of Italy. He works for importer Serendipity Wines, where he assists restaurants like Baonecci find great Italian labels for their wine list.
“I moved here in 2007, and it was difficult back then. You couldn’t find much in the way of real Italian food,” Pinasi said. “But it has begun to improve.”
Frisco is the fastest growing large city in the United States—a mushrooming sprawl of new shopping centers and suburban mega-homes averaging 3,555 square feet. It’s home to savvy foodies like Greg Jones, a software executive who lives in the neighborhood where Baonecci just opened.
“I travel for work, and I will always choose a local place like this,” Jones said. “Italian food is hard to find around Dallas, and there is really nothing like them in Frisco.”
As a neighbor, he says he hopes they’re able to overcome the location’s history. It was previously a breakfast place called Le Peep, and it sits at the end of a mundane shopping center that includes a Planet Fitness and an Aldi—a grocery store chain common throughout Texas. Such is Frisco.
“I didn’t know they were from San Francisco until we went in to try it,” Jones said. “Once you get inside, you can see they’ve transformed the space. What they’ve done with the Tuscan-style interior transcends what was there before. I hope the location doesn’t hurt them.”
The 3,019-square-foot restaurant includes a small salon, separated from the main dining room by a gas fireplace wall. They’ve strewn the area with personal touches, including a portable Victrola record player and a case of vinyl records from Elia and Filippo’s personal collection—as well as cookbooks, pottery and other family mementos. There’s a handsome vintage clock, artfully faded wood fixtures and a gleaming Lavazza Vega espresso machine at the bar.
A private dining room is home to their treasured painting by artist Jeremy Fish, created for the 2014 film Big Eyes, in which Baonecci was featured. It hangs on the wall like a shrine and prompts Walter to recall with a glow when he met Tim Burton, the film’s director.
The only wrinkle has been grumbling on review sites about the prices, a reminder that this isn’t San Francisco. With pizzas ranging from $20 to $29, and risotto and pastas as high as $35, they’re above the local norm. Two pizzas and two pastas with tip will get you over $150 pretty quickly. There’s an Olive Garden just a seven-minute drive south in another shopping center.
For now, the place is new, the buzz is fresh, and the Gambaccinis are all in. Walter and Stefania bought a house nearby and both Elia and Filippo plan to do the same.
“My girlfriend is moving here after her lease in San Francisco is up—we’re definitely here to stay,” Elia said.
Teresa Gubbins can be reached at [email protected]