This Bridgton, Maine eatery is the latest from longtime restaurateurs Joanie Wilson and her husband Jimmy Burke, whose first restaurant, Allegro, established a new gold standard in and around Boston when he opened it in 1981. Steve DiFillipo, owner of the famed, Italian-themed Davio’s Restaurants, wrote in his book, It’s All About The Guest, “I had been especially inspired by the food at Allegro in Waltham, Massachusetts, prepared by one of Boston’s first great chef-owners, Jimmy Burke. His light sauces, al dente pasta, and simple fresh dishes reflected the principles of what was then spreading across the United States as the New American Cuisine. And the thing was, you couldn’t get Jimmy’s food anywhere but at his restaurant.” DiFillipo’s appreciation of Jimmy Burke has also been recognized and admired since his pre-Allegro days as chef at the renowned Harvest Restaurant in Cambridge by an All-Star cast of James Beard award-winning chefs, including Frank McClelland, Jasper White, Lydia Shire, Gordon Hammersley, Chris Schlesinger, Bob Kinkead, and Julia Child. The award-winning chef and cookbook author Chris Schlesinger said of Jimmy, when interviewed and asked who in his career had influenced him the most, answered, “Jimmy’s the first chef who taught me to have a respect for food and whatever I was making to make it the best.”
Joanie Wilson has been in the restaurant business since 1980 and owned a string of very successful restaurants on the South Shore of Boston. Together, Joanie and Jimmy have opened Riva and JW’s Burger Bar in Scituate and Orta in Pembroke, which were sold and continue to have great success, fueled by the inspiration provided by Joanie and Jimmy. And now, Vivo, in Bridgton, Maine, where Joanie and Jimmy determined years ago buy a house, establish themselves in the Bridgton community, and to finalize their restaurant careers with Vivo, the culmination of their nearly four decades of experience in the restaurant business.
Together, Joanie and Jimmy have traveled extensively and often in Italy for years, every year. They have established true, lifelong friendships with a number of wine producers there, including some who are represented on Vivo’s wine list: Matteo Ascheri in the Piedmont, Elisabetta Fagiuoli (Montenidoli) and Erik Banti of Tuscany, each of whom you can see in photos on a wall in Vivo. Joanie and Jimmy’s experiences have deeply informed them of Italian tradition, of Italian culture and style, and, most importantly, traditional Italian food. Vivo is Joanie and Jimmy’s expression of their desire to provide a sense of what they have experienced in Italy to Vivo customers: the look, the smell, the ingredients, Italian cuisine without egotistic embellishment. Joanie handles the front of the house, the design, the décor, esthetic decisions. She leaves the kitchen to Jimmy, but certainly has a voice as to what dishes are to be offered, and certainly understands that her husband has a clear, unwavering understanding that classic Italian cuisine need not be interfered with by radical ideas, by unique and complex pairings or new-wave preparation of numerous ingredients. Joanie and Jimmy have understood from the beginning of their travels to Italy that, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. In other words, if you use fresh, excellent quality ingredients of traditional Italian dishes, which dictate ‘the fewer the better’, the more clearly and enjoyably the few ingredients will express themselves and the heritage and delight of Italian cuisine.