Just the sight of people waiting for a table outside Gino’s during a recent scorching Friday night told me there’s something right inside.
Mary and Gino Galantino, whose family was from Bari by way of New York, opened Gino’s more than 30 years ago. They bought a little bar on North Armenia Avenue, added a kitchen and let their menu evolve with both Northern and Southern Italian dishes. Now owned by their son, Michael, the restaurant’s menu of parmigiana, pasta and piccata overflow the plates and the laughter drowns out the music.
“Regulars come in two to three times a week,’’ says Michael. That’s because generous portions and the quality of the food surpass the competition.
Eggplant parmesan, for instance, goes from the mundane to the memorable.
“It’s our No. 1 seller,’’ adds Michael about the 4-inch stack of breaded and fried eggplant bulging with ricotta and mozzarella cheeses. A side of capellini caps this entrée. Think in threes for an Italian Sampler #2, a banal name for a soul-satisfying selection of lasagna, chicken parmigiana and linguini Alfredo. A pink princess sauce dresses seven lobster ravioli so light and tender they coaxed me to eat way more than I should have. Mushrooms and Italian sausage shine on rigatoni in a sage-flavored cream sauce.
Italians traditionally like their pasta sauced in a minimal way so the spinach pasta with shrimp, scallops, clams and fish would have benefited by leaving the extra Alfredo sauce behind. Need something a little less risky to your heart? A bit of teriyaki provides a simple but savory coating on North Atlantic salmon, topped with grilled shrimp, and accompanied by julienned squash. Dinners come with a leafy salad, tossed with an olive oil and wine vinegar dressing and lovely, crusty, hot bread (order it plain without the garlic butter).
For appetizers, the calamari has developed such a fan base that the restaurant can’t take it off the menu. The flour-dusted and fried squid with a dash of salt and garlic powder become tasty niblets. Bruschetta, which means to cook over hot coals, gets sizable slices of Gino’s bread, dipped in oil, seared on the grill, before being ladened with marinara sauce.
Finish dinner with Michael’s rich, rum-splashed, mascarpone and ladyfinger-layered tiramisu.
Regulars also like the fact that Gino’s employees are keepers: Kerry is no newcomer after 20 years; John has worked there for 18; and Branden has been a line cook for almost 10 years.
Parking used to be a problem, so Michael bought the property behind the restaurant for spill over. The eatery, once equal parts dining room and lounge, now offers a space for private parties where his catering company used to be. When the economy tapered, it became hard for his wine boutique to compete with the big box stores.
“We were spread too thin so we closed it and will go for rezoning in September to connect our two buildings,’’ he explains.
The economy hasn’t chased off the line of regulars though who wait for Gino’s dishes.
Gino’s Restaurant & Bar
Where: 10006 N. Armenia Ave., Tampa, FL
Hours: Mon. to Sat.: 11:30 am to 11 pm
Way to pay: AE, Discover, MC, V
Drinks: Beer and wine only
Reservations: (813) 933-1089
Web: www.ginosrestaurantbar.com [editor’s note: the website has music.]
Smoke signals: Die-hard carnivores craving smoky and sticky ribs have a new beef and pork spare ribs to choose between at Ragin’ Grill. The fast-casual concept eatery will open in the next 10 days in the former Make-A-Wish Foundation office at 1719 W. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa, (813) 254-3500. The menu also includes roast chicken, burgers, glazed wings sandwiches and salads.
CEO Jim Cheatham, who owned Ragin’ Ribs at 3636 Henderson Blvd. (now Queen of Sheba), is reviving the concept he halted when he was sidelined by health issues in 2003. Ragin’ Grill will be open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. It expects to have a large delivery business.
A new infusion: Eric Starr’s Hooker Tea Co. is gone. Starr’s now offers a gastro pub meets tea lounge with garden-fresh foods, bottled wine, and craft beers. Infusions Lounge has the same owners, but is a café now. Find waffles, sandwiches, quiches and crisp-like pizzas. Infusions, which offers free WiFi., is on the northwest corner of Howard Avenue and Platt Street at 223 S. Howard Ave. It’s open M- W, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Thur- Sat, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Sun. 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; (813) 443-5797.