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Frisco STYLE Magazine

Food and Family

Sep 01, 2022 ● By Lisa Sciortino
At one time, the idea of owning a restaurant was the furthest thing from Stefania Gambaccini’s mind.  

That was back in 2005 when she, her husband, Walter, and the couple’s sons, Elia and Filippo, relocated from Lucca, Italy, in Tuscany, to San Francisco. There, the family purchased and operated a bakery in the city’s North Beach neighborhood. 

“After a few years, we made it a coffee shop,” Stefania says. They went on to eventually transform the bakery into the much-lauded Baonecci Ristorante. 

 Fans of the 1993 movie Mrs. Doubtfire may recognize its exterior from a cameo in the film. The place was also seen in the 2014 flick Big Eyes, in which it starred as the Black Cat Café.

Baonecci Ristorante enjoyed a 16-year run in the City by the Bay before the Gambaccinis packed up and moved themselves and their business to Frisco earlier this year. 

Since reopening Baonecci Ristorante in June at 7151 Preston Road (in the space that formerly housed the breakfast-lunch eatery LePeep), customers have been filling its dining room – awash in warm, dark woods accented by faux-brick walls – to capacity six nights per week. 

Following a downturn in business resulting from the pandemic and facing what the San Francisco Standard called “bureaucratic hurdles” in a recent article lamenting Baonecci’s departure from that city, the Gambaccinis briefly considered relocating to Florida before settling on Frisco. 

 Son Elia —who serves as manager, host and (at times) waiter and busser — says their former Bay Area location welcomed plenty of diners from Texas during its history. “By coincidence … one of our friends moved here and he started talking so nice about Frisco — how it’s growing and how people are really friendly and that it would be a good opportunity for an Italian (restaurant) to grow,” he recalls. 

The restaurant is a family business in the truest sense of the word, with each of the Gambaccinis playing a vital role in its operation. 

The kitchen is Stefania’s domain, where she often spends 12-hour days creating authentic Italian entrees and desserts. 

Among the most popular items are the Risotto ai Frutti di Mare, featuring a house-made sauce with clams, mussels, shrimp, calamari and scallops. The lasagna – its sheets of egg pasta topped with Bolognese and bechamel cream sauces – is another favorite along with several varieties of tagliatelle pasta.  

 “I love to make the gnocchi,” Stefania says of the small potato dumplings. In the fall, she often incorporates pumpkin into the entree. “I love making seasonal dishes.”  

She continues to bake weekly – usually dozens of large, crusty loaves of bread that serve as the base for bruschetta that is topped with chopped tomato, garlic and fresh basil. She also makes from scratch the dough for the cracker-thin pizza crusts that are among the restaurant’s signature offerings.  

“It’s easier to cook and easier to digest,” she explains of the light, crispy pizzas that nod the type favored in Tuscany and Rome. Nearly all are topped with San Marzano tomato sauce. The Monte Blanco pizza features fresh mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced, aged prosciutto and a sizable scoop of creamy mascarpone cheese that melts slowly over the top of the warm pie. 

That's Italian

 Stefania is not a trained chef. Rather, she is a home cook-turned-culinary professional who grew up in Italy watching her parents and grandparents create “everyday food” in the family’s kitchen – bean soup with kale and onions, and Bolognese sauce among them. “I’m born for this job,” she says. 

“I love to make everything – tagliatelle, lasagna, the cakes, the biscotti – all for my family” and friends, she says. These days, “We don’t have time to make food for our friends, but we have a lot of customers and I love it so much because everybody is a (Frisco) local. Everybody is a neighbor.” 

The food that comes from the Baonecci Ristorante kitchen is authentic. “This is Italian food,” patriarch Walter Gambaccini insists. “Chicken parmigiana? You’ll never find that in Italy. Eggplant parmigiana, spaghetti and meatballs, alfredo (sauce)? Those are not Italian dishes.” 

The challenge has been introducing its authentic food to North Texas diners, says son Filippo, who frequently works alongside his mother in the kitchen.He also sources ingredients and goods for the restaurant, among other tasks. 

It isn’t the first time his family has educated diners about Baonecci’s menu. Before the restaurant began serving its crispy, individual-sized pizza nearly two decades ago in San Francisco, such pies were basically unheard of there. 

 “You’d go out to a restaurant and buy a big … pizza and divide it with the family. We kind of introduced that one-person pizza, like in Italy,” he says. “It took a while, but we changed that” mindset among diners. “About two or three years later, pizzerias started opening everywhere in San Francisco.” 

“We wanted to bring the idea of this type of Italian restaurant here” to Frisco, Filippo says. “There are some people that are not used to (the style of cuisine that) we do, but 99 percent of the people are super happy and are telling us, `Thank you for coming to Texas.'

Lisa Sciortino is managing editor of Frisco STYLE Magazine.