Isacco Vitali, head chef and owner of Isacco, in St. Charles, shares a taste of his native Italy. (Tom Holoubek photo)

Isacco: Northern Italian Fare Cooked with Finesse

Born from this chef’s lifetime love for food and the restaurant business, this St. Charles eatery is a true taste of Italy. See how fresh ingredients and grandma’s recipes make all the difference.

Isacco Vitali, head chef and owner of Isacco, in St. Charles, shares a taste of his native Italy. (Tom Holoubek photo)
Isacco Vitali, head chef and owner of Isacco, in St. Charles, shares a taste of his native Italy. (Tom Holoubek photo)

Isacco Vitali’s keen interest in food goes back to his teen years growing up in Brescia, a city in northern Italy.

The chef, owner and namesake of Isacco, his restaurant at 210 Cedar St. in St. Charles, first developed a taste for the restaurant business while working at an eatery run by family friends. The experience stuck with him, even as he studied business administration in school. His later studies at cooking school in San Pellegrino only further whet his appetite.

Today, Vitali is living his dream, putting both his business and culinary education into running his own restaurant. His dishes are of a comforting, true Italian taste, and each is made to order. One of the most popular is the Pappardelle Bolognese. “I cook it in the style my grandma cooked,” he says. Also popular are the crab ravioli diablo, with scallops and shrimp, and the braised short ribs cannelloni.

Vitali proudly anchors many of his dishes with his signature bread and pasta, both of which are made from scratch.

“I usually work with local suppliers, and use flour, oil and various ingredients imported from Italy,” he says. “It’s not always possible to get organic, but I look for good, quality ingredients. During the summer, I get almost all my herbs – basil, rosemary, sage – from a home garden and from one adjoining the restaurant.”

Vitali brings more to the menu than his Italian experience. After his time at cooking school, the chef honed his culinary skills at restaurants in Italy, England, Scotland and France. His tour of duty even included working in the busy kitchens of the Silversea, Oceania and Princess cruise lines. Before immigrating to the United States, Vitali helped his brother Angelo to revitalize the Trattoria Sant’Antonio restaurant in Italy.

In 2008, Vitali spent a year in Chicago with the late Charlie Trotter, before opening his own restaurant in St. Charles. He soon learned firsthand that running a restaurant is a demanding job.
“A lot of responsibility falls squarely on your shoulders,” he says. “One of the biggest challenges – something everyone in this business faces – is finding the right people.”

He found it more difficult to hire people as a small, then-unfamiliar establishment. “People have a tendency to work for corporations because of the security they offer, especially when their other option is something of an unknown quantity.”

With the support of his wife, Tracy, an Oak Park native employed by a family-owned food manufacturing company, and Vitali’s finesse with traditional northern Italian fare, the restaurant has earned its reputation over these past few years.

The 45-seat venue draws repeat business from locals as well as from surrounding suburbs, especially during the summer, when a seasonal patio more than doubles the capacity. Inside, the atmosphere is warm and friendly, with small adornments that echo Vitali’s Italian homeland.
“We get our share of business trade, families and couples who come for a date night,” says Vitali, who describes the space as intimate.

About 80 percent of Vitali’s desserts are made in-house, including chocolate souffle, tiramisu and anise star creme brulee.

Isacco offers full bar service, including specialty cocktails, some 40 wines from Italy, California, France and Spain, and imported and domestic beer, plus a selection of microbrews. Vitale also takes his menu on the road, with catering that serves at customers’ homes, banquets or Isacco’s special events room.

Customer service plays a big part in the restaurant’s success. “We offer special menus and allow substitutions, whenever possible, and we’re responsive to customers’ special dietary restrictions,” says Vitale. “We try to please our guests, and I believe we succeed 99 percent of the time.

Isacco is open for lunch Mon.-Fri. 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., and for dinner Mon.-Thur. 4-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 4-11 p.m. and Sun. 4-9 p.m.