Day and night, locals love to dine at GianMarco’s Restaurant.
By Jan Walsh
Photography by Beau Gustafson
GianMarco’s Restaurant is undisputedly one of the most popular restaurants in the Birmingham metro area. Yet hunger alone is not what draws locals here. Instead it is an appreciation—and a craving—for an Old World Italian cuisine and dining experience that GianMarco’s consistently achieves. Due to its popularity, dinner reservations are needed. But if you crave their authentic Italian—and have no diner reservations—show up for lunch, as we did today.
GianMarco’s entry is through its separate bar. Here locals line the stools and fill the bar tables. The walls are wrapped with recognitions—framed reviews by local print publications. We follow the savory aromas of Italian sauces and Neapolitan pizzas—baking in a low domed oven—towards the dining room. Here the open kitchen allows us to view meals in preparation. And the flames of the domed oven add a touch of warmth to the ambience.
Giani and his brother Marco Respinto were born into their father's restaurant in New York’s Greenwich Village—Rocco's. Their father Giovanni Respinto is co-owner with his two sons in GianMarco’s. Giovanni serves as host, greeting guests during restaurant hours. He also manages whatever is needed each day, such as bank runs, shopping for needed items, taking reservations and more. Marco is the executive chef, and Giani, a chef himself, also does a bit of everything, managing the restaurant including their catering business and beverage program. Marco’s sons, Joseph and Michael grew up working here. Now in college, Michael works the door with his grandfather Giovanni. And Joseph works as a bus boy.
The lunch menu offers some of the antipasta, salad, pasta, main plate, and dessert menu selections as the dinner menu—along with a variety of pizzas and sandwiches. Dishes from the dinner menu can also be ordered. So lunch here is without limitations. The dinner menu includes seven entrée and three appetizer specials, as well as one dinner specialty pizza.
The products of commercial farmers and big growers are not found in the kitchen of GianMarco’s. Fine, select Italian cheeses and cured meats are showcased here. And there are no commodity proteins. No farm raised fish, the fish are wild caught by fishermen they know and trust. Other than some crabs and oysters, all are domestic fish. The same pride is taken from backdoor to dining room with their artisanal sourced chicken, veal, grass-fed beef of reputable producers.
The wine list is one of the most extensive and inexpensive in the city. Available by the glass, the bottle, or even better is the quartino—a carafe of one and one half glasses. A quartino is ideal for those who want more than just a glass and for the couple who doesn't share the same taste in wine. Have your white while your husband has his red.
One look at the menu, and memories of my GianMarco favorites flash before my eyes. Recollections of Fritto Misto—fried ravioli Bolognese, risotto and prosciutto ball, and mozzarella in carozza with roasted yellow tomato sauce—tempt. Memories of Marco's pan-roasted grouper—with calamata olives, onions, garlic, caper berries, potatoes, and marinara make my mouth water. And my all time favorite (to date) is their Fettuccine Alfredo with Gulf Shrimp—ribbons of fettuccine tossed in Alfredo with large, beautiful, pink Gulf Shrimp, simply sautéed with butter, salt and pepper—make it difficult to order anything else.
But today we order two Italian lunch dishes we have never had. Pizza, which is new to the menu and the lasagna. GianMarco’s lunch pizzas are approximately eight inches—perfect for one. Hearty pieces of sausage, peppers, tomato and mozzarella top the crisp, slightly charred crust—true to Neapolitan style. One taste and I have a new place for pizza. Lasagna is served steaming hot in its own dish. A golden cheesy topping wraps its melted self around the Italian pasta and beef. Now that’s Italian! For dessert two small, crisp on the outside and creamy on the inside cannolis provide a sweet ending to an incredible Italian lunch.
Published, B-Metro magazine, February 2011