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A Little Bit of Italy Along California’s Highway 1

by Penny Sadler

Filtered sunlight bathed the room in a warm glow, highlighting the menu of the day, hand written on a black board. Behind a wooden bar, a young guy was taking orders while a much older man cooked on a tiny gas stove top. White espresso cups were lined up on a red shelf next to glass jars filled with spices, all neatly labeled. The elegant sounds of Duke Ellington’s era played on a 33 turn table, a stack of vintage vinyl beside it.

A little bit of Italy along California's Highway 1 @PennySadler

It’s all in the details

I read the offerings on the blackboard: ravioli with butternut squash; mozzarella di bufala with tomato, capers and basil; grilled chicken on ciabatta with brie and pesto; and for dessert, tiramisu or imported gelato: fig, dark chocolate, vanilla, cherry, and espresso. My mouth watered as I recalled the last real Italian gelato I’d eaten in Rome.

A little Bit of Italy Along California's Highway 1

Chef Giovanni at work

The atmosphere, the menu…everything spoke of Italy. The service was informal, the food was fresh, and the clientele comprised 90% regulars. Even the out of town visitors were repeat customers who had stumbled on this gem of a cafe the same way I had. But I wasn’t in Italy, I was in California.

The first thing I asked the young man behind the counter was, “Are you Italian?”
“No,“ he replied, “but he is,” pointing to the much older man doing all the cooking. I knew it. Dakota introduced me to Giovanni, the owner, who immigrated from Modena, Italy over thirty years ago.

I wracked my brain for every word of Italian I could remember, though he spoke fluent English. Italians seem to sincerely appreciate anyone who tries to speak their language. That alone makes it worth the effort.

A little bit of Italy along California's Highway 1

Regulars at the cafe

 

A little bit of Italy along Califonria's Highway 1

Happy customers

As I waited for my food, I took photographs of the cafe, Giovanni, and even some of the guests. I discovered that Giovanni and his home cooking are quite popular, and he has a regular following of not only locals, but visitors from all over the United States who stop at the cafe to eat his authentic Italian food.

I don’t often eat pasta, but I knew that Giovanni’s pasta was going to be the real deal, so I ordered the ravioli stuffed with butternut squash and a glass of pinot grigio to wash it down. The first bite transported me to Italy. An explosion of memories from prior trips  flooded my senses.

Pasta at Harmony Cafe at the Pewter Plough @;PennySadler 2015

Gnam gnam

I had some tentative plans to meet up with friends later that day, but decided I was going to stay and have an Italian experience. That meant no mindless eating – each bite is mindful. No rushing to be someplace else, instead just enjoying the meal, the ambiance, and the random conversations with other customers. I allowed myself to be in the moment. It was my ultimate travel experience – new place, friendly conversation, great food, and no agenda. I could have stayed there all day.

 

Tiramisu, A Little Bit of Italy in California Hwy. 1 @PennySadler 2015

And then I had the tiramisu…

For dessert, I was torn between ordering the gelato or the tiramisu. In the end, I decided on the tiramisu, because Giovanni made it. Tiramisu, when made well, is light and creamy, in spite of being made with egg yolks, mascarpone cream, and ladyfingers,  with just enough cocoa and caffeine to give you a little lift. In fact, the name tiramisu means little lift or pick me up. Need I say more? If you like tiramisu, you will love Giovanni’s.

Welcome to the Harmony Cafe, now called Harmony Cafe at the Pewter Plough, and newly relocated in Cambria, California.

 

A little bit of Italy along California's Highway 1

New signage for the Harmony Cafe

A meal at the Harmony Cafe is a must when traveling Highway 1 in San Luis Obispo County. Chef Giovanni will woo you with his passion for preparing and serving only the freshest, most delicious meal. With seemingly no effort at all, Giovanni serves up all the nuances of a true Italian experience. Before you’ve even finished your tiramisu, you’ll be planning a return visit.

When you visit, please do say hello to Chef Giovanni for me.

 

A Little Bit of Italy along California's Highway 1

Exterior, Harmony Cafe in Cambria, California. photo courtesy of Harmony Cafe

 

Know Before You Go

The Harmony Cafe at the Pewter Plough is in Cambria, not Harmony, located inside the Pewter Plough Playhouse.

Address
824 Main St.
Cambria, Ca  93428
805-924-1219  Cafe
805-439-0634  Office

 

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14 comments

Priscilla - She's Cookin' April 29, 2015 at 11:38 am

I haven’t been to Cambria in a year or so, but I’ll remember Harmony Cafe for next time!

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Mary @ Green Global Travel April 4, 2015 at 11:04 am

I’d love to try some of Giovanni’s home cooking. Thanks for sharing this little slice of Italy in Cali.

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Casey @ A Cruising Couple April 4, 2015 at 12:50 am

YUM! Looks so so delish.. after spending extensive time in Italy I can be hard to please when it comes to Italian cuisine, but this looks amazing!

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Lillie April 3, 2015 at 9:36 am

Oh my gosh — This sounds SO GOOD! The butternut squash ravioli?!?! Sign me up!

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Elle | Spain Buddy March 31, 2015 at 4:23 am

Once again you have got my mouth watering. Great food AND a glass of Pinot!

Once I win the Euromillones Penny, you and I are going on a tour of Italy. But yes, we can start in California first if you like x

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Penny Sadler March 31, 2015 at 10:35 am

Have you been to California? You’d love it!

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Wandering Educators March 30, 2015 at 1:38 pm

LOVE this! i’d go to CA just to eat here, i think. what an amazing place!

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Penny Sadler March 30, 2015 at 1:58 pm

It really was. I look forward to going back.

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Jeri March 23, 2015 at 1:53 am

i am so happy to hear that Giovanni has reopened his cafe! We are big fans of his food. We were so sorry to hear that he had been forced to close when the whole town of Harmony was sold and the new owners kicked him out!

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Penny Sadler March 23, 2015 at 4:26 pm

Well it’s really about the food and not the place so much. If you visit the new location in Cambria be sure to say hello to Giovanni and Dakota from Penny. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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Tom Bentley March 19, 2015 at 11:10 am

Penny, it’s been a while since I’ve been in Cambria, but it’s always been good for me; so much to do in various directions, or just to putter by the sparkling sea. I spent time in Harmony years ago, and remember some café from then, but the memory is dim. Regardless, next time I’m in Cambria, I’m there—your photos and story made it a magnet.

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Penny Sadler March 20, 2015 at 11:02 am

Hey Tom, Nice to hear from you. Unfortunately I didn’t get to explore Cambria much, but next time, yep along with a meal at Giovanni’s cafe. Who knows maybe we can even manage to be there at the same time. That would be a miracle.

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Charles McCool March 13, 2015 at 11:19 pm

Adding this to my places to stop next trip down Big Sur.

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Penny Sadler March 14, 2015 at 6:12 pm

You’ll be glad you did!

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