The cuisine at Da Baffone, in Crystal Lake, is traditional to Southern Italy. (Da Baffone Cucina Italiana photo)

Da Baffone Cucina Italiana: Southern Italian Eats

This family-run restaurant in Crystal Lake serves up authentic Southern Italian pairings in a homey atmosphere.

The cuisine at Da Baffone, in Crystal Lake, is traditional to Southern Italy. (Da Baffone Cucina Italiana photo)
The cuisine at Da Baffone, in Crystal Lake, is traditional to Southern Italy. (Da Baffone Cucina Italiana photo)

After managing a restaurant for years, Camille Giangrande decided it was time to fulfill her dream of running her own place in a quaint downtown area. With the support of her large Italian family, Giangrande opened Da Baffone Cucina Italiana, 111 N. Main St., Crystal Lake, with her brother-in-law, her husband, Dominic, and the couple’s three sons in 2010.

A fine dining establishment that seats 60 people, Da Baffone serves up authentic cuisine that transports your taste buds straight to Southern Italy.

“It’s like you walk inside my house when you come here,” Giangrande says. “We create an authentic Italian experience with the atmosphere. The Italian radio, the real olive oil on the table that we infuse ourselves, the real cheese from Italy – and everything is fresh.”

Giangrande enjoys conversing with the diverse crowd that dines at Da Baffone, from teenagers on their first dates to singles grabbing a drink, to adults celebrating a special occasion, to families with children sharing a meal together. Located just a stone’s throw away from the Crystal Lake Metra stop, Da Baffone is easily accessible for many area diners.

The intimate dining room is conducive to forming new friendships, as Giangrande often witnesses diners, who are strangers at first, return time and again for the experience. Giangrande is often found in-house during operating hours, so she’s befriended many a customer.

“I’ve been here five years now, and I know about 80 percent of my customers,” Giangrande says. “I think it’s important to be here every day, because people like to see the owner – they like to talk to the owner. Otherwise they can go to a corporate restaurant and deal with a staff that’s here today, gone tomorrow. My staff has been with me since I opened.”

Unlike some Italian restaurants, Da Baffone serves cuisine that’s traditional to Southern Italy. In fact, a sister restaurant, Agriturismo Da Baffone, resides just south of Naples in Avellino, Italy. Giangrande stays true to the Southern Italian style by using meat-infused sauce (never Bolognese sauce); a braciola entree that’s stuffed with Parmesan cheese, garlic and parsley with marinara sauce on top; and a wide selection of wine that favors most Southern regions of Italy.

Da Baffone’s wine list is 70 percent Italian, with more than 80 varieties to choose from. Giangrande favors Aglianico wine, made from red grapes grown in her home region of Campania. The light-red wine pairs well with just about anything, Giangrande says. However, she believes wine drinkers should order what they like and not worry about pairing the proper wine with an entree.

“Back in the day, they said you have to have white with this, red with this – but it’s not like that anymore,” Giangrande says. “Today, it’s what your palate likes. I personally do not believe in matching wine with certain entrees because I believe in having what you like. I train my servers to figure out if you like sweet, crispy, a full body or light body, and we’ll get you something you enjoy.”

The wine at Da Baffone is just as important as the food. Giangrande’s goal is to have one of the best wine lists in McHenry County.

“We start drinking wine the minute we start walking in Italy,” Giangrande says. “Wine is big. You’re going to find a flask at every Italian household. That’s why it’s important to me that our bar has a large wine selection.”

However, while Giangrande hopes to expand Da Baffone’s wine collection, she plans to keep most everything else the same.

“People ask me if I want to grow, or if I want to move, and I always tell them no,” Giangrande says. “I’m staying here. Owning a restaurant is tiring, but it’s fun. I worked hard to get here. Hopefully, if God gives me the strength, everything will stay exactly the way it is. This is my dream.”

Da Baffone is open for dinner Tues.-Thurs. 4-9 p.m., Fri.-Sat. to 10 p.m., and Sun. to 8 p.m. Reservations are recommended.