Meet the chef, or as Dave Gatto modestly prefers, the cook and the front of the house hostess, Donna DeLuca Utter.
When you grow up in a household with an Italian father and Polish mother who both love to cook, and then throw in the influence of an English teacher parent, your future might be somewhat predictable. It turned out that Dave Gatto’s life did follow a path strongly influenced by his parents. Like so many people who are in the restaurant business, Dave’s first job as a teenager was washing dishes for Tom O’Hara at the Owego restaurant that bears his name. One of his early lessons was to seize upon every opportunity to help cook, which meant less time scrubbing pots and pans. After a year the cook got sick, and he had learned enough to cover for her until she returned.
Then off to college and landing a summer job with the legendary Guido Iacovelli at his flagship restaurant on the Vestal Parkway, The Fountains, located adjacent to the Holiday Inn (now Fuji San). He learned a lot… quickly. Guido would frequently bring his family in for dinner at The Fountains on Sundays. One day, Guido’s mother, Rosina, who some say was the most talented cook in the Iacovelli family, wanted pasta with a white sauce. Dave was the cook that day and was in a bit of a panic. No one had taught him how to make the classic Italian white sauce. Without missing a beat, Mrs. Iacovelli sauntered into the kitchen and taught Dave how to make her version.
Working at The Fountains also had its more interesting moments. More often than not big name performers, like ZZ Top and Jerry Garcia, would stay at the Holiday Inn and order room service. For understandable reasons, often the female servers would decline the opportunity to deliver those room service orders, which provided Dave the cook the chance to meet some really interesting entertainers.
While all that was going on in Dave’s life, in another universe, in 1974, the Old World Deli opened on the Vestal Parkway, interestingly enough, almost across the street from The Fountains. Partners Dick Schleider and Don DeLuca began operating a classic deli, selling cold cuts, cheese, kosher foods, German cold cuts and fresh fish, often heading down to New York City for items not available locally. As it turns out, Don’s daughter, Donna, was a fixture behind the counter, learning the subtle techniques of customer service from her father and his business partner.
Life went on. Dave embarked on his teaching career and Donna as an engineer with multiple degrees and a stint as a high school math teacher. Fate brought them together years later and they once again explored careers in the culinary and hospitality industries. They decided that the next phase of their life together would be opening a full service restaurant. They looked for a location for over a year, finally settling on 118 Main Street in the Village of Windsor, a former biker bar which needed significant renovations. Among the attractions was a wonderful outdoor space for seasonal dining and growing a vast array of herbs, all now used in Dave’s kitchen. They settled on A Tavolo as the name, which translates to To The Table… a fitting reference to the white linen service that you receive at the restaurant.
Dave is still using the pasta sauce recipe Don DeLuca used at the Old World Deli, Grandma Rose’s ravioli recipe, and a few original touches of his own like his Godfather Platter featuring Lasagna, Manicotti, Chicken Parm, Spaghetti and a Meatball. Those touches, combined with whatever seasonal products are available, like local duck eggs, honey, garlic scapes, blueberries, and black trumpet mushrooms, make for a truly unique dining experience, with all the pastas, sauces and dressings made from scratch. But the ultimate compliment may have come when a diner, upon tasting Dave’s Veal Saltimbocca, asked, “Did you ever work for Guido Iacovelli?”