Catelli's (21047 Geyserville Ave., Geyserville, 707-857-3471) is one of the newest and oldest restaurants in the northern Sonoma County town of Geyserville. Although it opened under its current name in early 2010, it actually debuted as Catelli’s the Rex restaurant in 1936.
The original owners of the restaurant's historic brick building were Virginia and Santi Catelli. For the last decade, the space was another Italian eatery called Santi, but when that place closed in December of 2009, the Catellis stepped back in.
Today, it’s under the stewardship of the Catelli grandchildren, Domenica Catelli (former executive chef at Ravens at the Stanford Inn in Mendocino) and Nicholas Catelli (a Guy Fieri staffer for 13 years), and they’ve brought their family legacy back in delicious style.
If these walls could talk, what secrets would they share? Next to the front door is a black-and-white photo of the 1930s Rex, and the mood then looks to be just as it is today — a casual, friendly gathering spot for locals.
It’s light and bright, with a country-kitchen theme warmed by a fireplace and fresh flowers. The front lounge may be the best seating, in mustard-toned booths next to the big, dark wood bar that’s held court over some of northern Sonoma County’s finest history.
The menu is a nod to the good-old-days, too. Nonnie’s minestrone is just like it might have been when Grandma Catelli served it to the young Domenica, now chef, slow-simmering her own hearty stock of vegetables and cannellini, navy and garbanzo beans. The meat ravioli is Grandmother’s recipe, too, bringing a big plate of a dozen delicate pasta pockets smothered in Domenica’s sauce of tomato, fresh herbs and plenty of garlic.
For another salute to home, chicken sauté sec is one of those dishes you simply can’t stop eating, so wonderfully savory as bone-in Rocky chicken browned with rosemary, garlic, mushrooms and white wine over chard and creamy pesto polenta.
Many of the ingredients come from the Geyserville area, including wines from a 20-mile radius around the restaurant, and you can taste the freshness.
Not everything is old-school — Grandpa Catelli would be surprised to see organic house-cut French fries tossed in truffle oil, lemon zest, red chile flakes, and Parmesan, but likely would swoon in joy after one bite.
Creamy burrata is straight from the Italian homeland, paired with imported prosciutto and grilled bread dressed in Dry Creek olive oil, while specials might include rustic luxuries such as Geyserville rabbit loin stuffed with mushrooms and paté alongside shanks dressed in red wine reduction sauce and pickled red cabbage from the garden that frames Catelli’s back patio.
For dessert, try the bread pudding, in a fluffy cake of sourdough and sweet bread in rum-soaked golden raisins, custard and whipped cream. It’s a blast from the past that makes an oh-so-delicious present.