When people think about Rome what usually comes to mind are the Coliseum, St. Peter's Square and the Sistine Chapel.
"They forget about the beach. We have a beautiful beach area," said Graziano Ricci, a native of Rome, who brings a beach feel to an unlikely place.
Ricci is the owner of the Beach Gallery and Cafe at 542 Westport Ave. in Norwalk, near the Bow Tie Cinemas.
The cafe serves up Italian-inspired food, a bit of culture through rotating exhibitions of artwork and photography, and a message about the importance of protecting the Earth's coastlines.
"We're basically trying to give back to what gives to us every day," manager Vittorio "Victor" Avellino said.
The environmental philosophy is evident in the restaurant's decor, which features a large, three-dimensional wave, a driftwood counter and a tall driftwood nest cradling a sizable, spinning replica of the globe.
"The cool thing about the driftwood is that it's been recovered through beach recovery projects," Avellino said.
The cafe, which opened in mid-December, packs a lot of unusual elements under one roof.
"My idea is to do something that is not common in Connecticut," said Ricci, who also is the chef at Osteria Romana, another Italian-style restaurant not far from the Beach Gallery and Cafe. Osteria Romana celebrated its one-year anniversary in early January.
Avellino said the Beach Gallery and Cafe is not the style of restaurant typically found in that end of Norwalk. Such concept restaurants are generally found in California and New York. Ricci said patrons can enjoy a high-end meal and experience, but at affordable prices.
"One of the things that sets us apart is the combination of many little details that create a unique experience," Avellino said. "We're not just giving you food, we're giving you a whole experience.
"It's a great family spot and a great date spot. We have something for everyone. We're trying to create a nice environment for anyone who walks in."
Ricci's uncommon offerings include a coffee and hot chocolate bar; a wine bar; a lounge; gallery exhibits, with all work on display available for purchase; a retail shop of beach wear; and a theater room for viewings and small parties.
"We specialize in chocolate," Ricci said of the coffee and hot chocolate bar, which he expects will attract families. A deli slicer is artfully positioned in plain view for patrons to watch preparation of select cold cuts and cheeses.
"You not only get to enjoy a piece of (culinary) art, you get to watch the chefs create it," Avellino said.
The menu includes focaccia made fresh on site daily, bruschetta and stuzzichini.
At night, there will be mood lighting for the dating crowd, and on weekends local musicians will provide live entertainment. Don't be surprised if Avellino temporarily abandons his management duties to join in the performances.
"If it's my friends' bands, you may see me get up there and jam," said Avellino, who sings and plays multiple instruments.
Beach Gallery and Cafe is open for dinner and features a happy hour, but Avellino and Ricci expect to add lunches eventually.
"I'm a bit of a beer geek, so we're going to expand our beer menu and introduce some microbrews and craft beers," Avellino said. "I like to educate my customers on good craft beers and smaller beer companies."
Joel Kelley, of Norwalk, said he appreciates the idea of bringing the Earth and beach together in a unique restaurant concept that provides good food and also works to send a message about healing the earth.
Said Katie Madden, of Stamford, "I've never been to a (restaurant) that is encouraging a permanent discussion of change. It's always people being invited to a charity event (around a specific cause)."
But, Kelley said, "this is every day."
For more information, visit call 203-956-5605 or visit www.beachgallerycafe.com.