Life’s a Banquet at Convivio

Italian eatery features pasta shop in a restaurant

Walk into Convivio and there’s no doubt the pasta served here is fresh. The pasta kitchen is located by the front door with a full view of all the pasta made from scratch daily.

Convivio“We have 10 to 12 different types right now – some are flavored – and we use vegetables such as spinach or beets,” said Andrea Melani, co-owner of the Italian restaurant that opened Nov. 14 at The Bridges shopping center in Carmel. “The idea is that you can express creativity in the shapes of the pasta and it is really what Italian cuisine is known for.”

Some of the pasta is made by a machine that runs constantly, while other is made by hand. Not only is the pasta served at each meal fresh, you can also buy it by the pound to take and enjoy at home.

“I think this is a unique twist,” Melani said. “The idea is to also have sauces to sell as well but we are still working on that. We’ve just been so busy since we opened.”

Passion for food and culture.

Melani knows a few things about restaurants – he grew up in the family restaurant business in Italy. He moved to the States 17 years ago and had his first job in Indiana at Ciao in Zionsville, owned by his partner in Convivio – Emilio Cento. Melani went on to work for a few other places, including Bravo, the well-known Castleton destination.

“The passion’s always been there but opening a restaurant can be a scary thing these days, especially coming up with a new concept,” Melani said. “It took a while to get rid of the fear – I was in a good place at Bravo and about to be made partner – but things had just become stale.”

A visit from his niece gave him the final nudge.

“She was here from Italy and kept asking why I didn’t just open a restaurant and I told her it was a lot of work and she just kept asking and pressuring me,” he said. “So we started brainstorming the idea and I thought it would be cool to do a pasta shop in a restaurant. That came to me because my parents made pasta in their restaurant and we just went from there.”

The name – Convivio – took a while to come up with, Melani admits.

“Ultimately this project is about sharing the passion for common food and common culture – a place where you find a connection with Italian culture,” he said. “Convivio literally means banquet or feast as a way of sharing an experience together.”

That theme is reflected in everything from the music to the décor – with an exposed ceiling with beams, wainscoting, creamy colored walls, soft lighting, magazines and books scattered about, a quartz topped bar and tabletops made out of Indiana birch.

“It’s beautiful but unpretentious. We’re not striving for upscale but at the same time wanted to find that right balance with being a nice place where people feel comfortable,” Melani said. “It’s also reflected in the server’s uniform of jeans and a brown shirt with rolled up sleeves and a bistro apron. They look sharp and give the impression this is a nice place open to everyone.”

Changing menu

Of course the real star at Convivio is the food. The Rigatoni Funghi Salsiccia - rigatoni pasta with mushroom porcini cream sauce, thyme, sausage and shaved Parmesan - is a customer favorite, Melani said. Another crowd pleaser is the Tagliatelle al Convivio - red bell pepper pasta tossed in a zesty red bell pepper cream sauce with chicken and topped with fresh Parmesan.

“We’re making a few changes to the menu – taking some things out and adding a few,” Melani said. “I always want to try to raise the standard of not only the service but the food. It has to be that way. It’s easy to get settled and let things get boring.”

Melani also plans to work with area farmers to use locally sourced food.

As for the future, Melani and Cento have already been approached with offers from local developers to open another location.

“I know it’s very premature but we’ve gotten quite a bit of attention and business has been great and just exceeding our expectations,” he said. “I hope that will continue and certainly, if the opportunity to do more arises we will, but for now the focus is to keep our feet on the ground and improve on what we have.”

By Chris Bavender
Photos by Stan Gurka