At Ciao Italian Bistro & Wine Bar in Fenton, the philosophy is very simple: mangia bene (eat well!) And that’s exactly what one can expect at the charming eatery that opened in October 2018. Ciao is the third restaurant in the family-owned-and-operated chain that is well known for its sumptuous Italian cuisine, according to Toma Vulaj, Manager of the Fenton location. When the owners were choosing a site for their third venture, the family-oriented, close-knit community of Fenton was the perfect choice.
The food is the star of the show, according to the manager. “It’s all top quality,” he reports, “and it’s all made to order.” The restaurant, which seats approximately 100 guests, is elegant and inviting, with its high-top booth seating, comfortable chairs and white table linens. “You can have an enjoyable conversation here while enjoying a delicious meal.”
Chef Josh has been the main chef at Ciao since it opened for business. “Our chefs care about serving a quality product,” says Vulaj. The walleye is a customer favorite – pan seared, topped with orange gastrique and served over gremolata risotto with steamed asparagus. Also popular is the 16-oz. ribeye steak topped with Italian aioli and crispy onions, served over capicola-potato hash. Another favorite is Pasta Davinci – jumbo shrimp, diver scallops and fresh mussels sautéed with white wine, with herbs and palomino sauce over capellini pasta.
Vulaj’s personal favorite, Seafood Diablo, is sautéed diver scallops, jumbo shrimp, mussels and flash-fried calamari in a spicy chipotle-sage-butter sauce. “It is so good!” Vulaj exclaims. Guests also enjoy the filet mignon, char-grilled to perfection and topped with Ciao’s signature Zip Sauce. “You can cut it with a spoon. It’s delicious!”
One of Ciao’s Signature Plates is Butternut Ravioli, which is ravioli filled with squash puree, walnuts and exotic mushrooms, served in a creamy marsala sage sauce. Rounding out the pasta choices is a variety of delicious dishes including Lasagna Bolognese, Pasta Con Pollo, Lobster Ravioli and Gnocchi Abruzzo, to name a few. On the lighter side, the Traverse City Gorgonzola Salad is fresh greens topped with Traverse City dried cherries, toasted pine nuts and Gorgonzola cheese, tossed with a roasted shallot vinaigrette.
Ciao recently expanded the restaurant using adjacent space that was previously a jewelry store, Guenter A. Beholz Jewelers. Guenter Beholz passed away unexpectedly in December 2018. In his honor, the new space was appropriately named the “Diamond Room.” The room has seating for 45 guests and is available to rent for gatherings, weddings, office meetings, showers, “anything you want,” says Vulaj. Another space, the Wine Room, has seating for 18 and can also be rented for private events.
The bar area is extremely popular, especially during Happy Hour from 2-6pm, with drink and appetizer specials. The spacious bar offers a nice selection of wines, beer and specialty cocktails such as the White Sangria made with white wine, brandy and fruit. “It’s really sweet and fruity and very good,” says Vulaj.
Ciao has gained a loyal following of regular customers. “I look down the bar and we know everybody sitting there!” Vulaj exclaims. “Whether it is a special occasion date or just to grab a bite to eat, we just want people to enjoy themselves.”
It’s worth the drive to Fenton for a taste of Ciao’s Italian food. “The community has embraced us. Everyone seems to know everyone!” Vulaj adds. “We are happy to see them. They all come from this friendly town.”
Photography by Kayce McClure