A family tale dating back to 1960
Antonella and her vision
My name is Antonella, and I’m at the helm of Il Timone.
Our restaurant was founded by my family in 1960 – not exactly yesterday – and I was born a few years after that. At the time, the sea waves came up to where our outdoor tables are now. I’ve always offered typical, regional, local cuisine, but not because it was fashionable to do so. Back then, in the 1960s and 1970s, it was customary for restaurants to serve the same typical local dishes we all enjoyed at home.
To this day, we still focus on dishes rooted in my father’s historical recipes, enriched with a slightly more contemporary presentation. Our restaurant provides patrons with a variety of options: breakfast from 10:30 am, then lunch, seafront afternoon snacks, drinks and aperitifs starting at 5:30 pm, and finally dinner. Facing the sea, it offers a splendid view of Palmaria Island. At Il Timone you can treat yourself to a lush dinner and great wines, or just drop in after dinner for a glass of excellent Passito and one of our daily homemade desserts.
Rooted in the land
My relationship with the land, meaning the soil and its wondrous gifts, goes a long way back. When I was a little girl I often visited a dear aunt of mine who lived above the hills of Spezia (where my family originally came from). This aunt had an amazing, and incredibly well-conceived, vegetable garden. She and my uncle grew vegetables and raised chickens too. I remember drinking a fresh raw egg every morning when I was there on vacation! During the day, they would harvest tomatoes, salads, green beans, and white borlotti beans… whatever was in season. My parents didn’t have much time, they were busy with the restaurant, so they regularly sent me to my aunt’s, and I stored this experience deep down inside. I think it changed me, albeit unconsciously, and had a lot to do with the creation of Il Timone’s vegetable garden. Just picture it: an 8,000 square meter oasis where we grow the seasonal vegetables and herbs we use in our restaurant kitchens. It’s our pride and joy!
Il Timone is a restaurant. Actually, forget the word “restaurant”. Il Timone isn’t a restaurant, Il Timone is: “Il Timone: flavors of Liguria”. What do I mean? At Il Timone, you take a seat and discover our region’s scents and aromas: the flavors that stem from our family heritage and tradition.
To this day, we uphold this legacy. And we do it so faithfully and proudly that we have elderly customers/grandparents who often, and gladly, bring their grandchildren here to try the stuffed anchovies. They’re made according to the original recipe, so they taste exactly like those that the kids who came to my father's place used to eat. The grandparents want the grandchildren to taste them because “it's a can’t-miss experience.”
The children usually enjoy them, despite being used to somewhat more modern fare. Hence, we are rooted in tradition and hold a deep bond with classic, traditional recipes handed down through the family, but we also have an eye for innovation.
To us, innovation means finding the inspiration for a new dish but preparing it with typical, and locally-sourced, products. Our vegetable garden in Portovenere provides us with fresh, seasonal, tasty produce, and this feeds our craving for innovation.
Rewind to the 1960s, when Il Timone first opened. It was the era of the Tavola Calda, Italy’s version of the very first fast-food diners. I’m not sure how many of you really recall what these were really like. An Italian Tavola Calda was an informal eatery somewhere in between a restaurant and a deli, where one could buy takeaway home-cooked meals. Lasagna and stuffed vegetables, for instance, were Tavola Calda classics.
So what happened in the 1960s? My parents turned Il Timone, a traditional Tavola Calda, into a restaurant and pizzeria, a fashionable “formula” at the time, but very restrictive from my point of view. How on earth can you capture such marvelous and extensive concepts as restaurant hospitality and Italian cuisine (which includes pasta with pesto, pizza, and tiramisu!) and shut them into sterile labels like “restaurant” and “pizzeria”?!
This is why we chose to define ourselves as “Il Timone: flavors of Liguria”. This phrase embraces and includes all the beautiful Italian and Ligurian products we prepare and serve, from those that come to the table hot from the oven to those we lovingly concoct on the kitchen stove.
Il Timone was established in 1960 when all there was in Portovenere was a one-way street: you went down along it and came back up along it, too. There was no road nor marina in front of Il Timone, only the rocks and the sea, and a little path you could take from the piazzetta.
At that time, when my father Marino and my mother Toni opened this seafront restaurant, you could almost touch the water with your feet, and it was just the beginning of a fantastic story. I, too, became part of Il Timone: at first, I followed my parents’ lead, and then I simply fell in love with this restaurant and this job.
Today, Il Timone is home to the third generation: my two sons are as passionately crazy about this place, and this business, as I am! Originally, Il Timone was similar to what used to be called tavola calda, an eatery somewhere in between a deli and a diner.
Truth be told, the tavole calde were similar to what we now would call trattorie: a place where you could taste typical food. Such as stuffed muscles, stuffed vegetables, lasagna with pesto, and crème caramel, a traditional and beloved oven-baked dessert (it’s gone out of fashion, but it’s still very good if it’s made properly!).
The place then changed a bit, more from a formal point of view, seeing as I replaced my parents “at the helm”, and we all know that with a different hand come other feelings, atmospheres, and experiences. We remain very faithful to our family’s first steps, to their traditional recipes, and devoted respect for customers. We still have patrons who come for lunch or dinner and remember my father and mother. These are obviously very old people, and their visits fill our hearts with joy. People of all ages come to Il Timone: children, who then come back to visit us after years with their families, grandparents who sit down and tell us what Il Timone was like in the early ‘60s.
So today, as you can see when you come to visit, Il Timone is a combination of all of this. A rich history, and a long journey that leads to me and my children, all part of a fabulous family tale!