GianMarco’s family, food and experience bring diners back for more.

By Jan Walsh

Photography by Beau Gustafson

GianMarco’s is a cult restaurant. Regulars would like to keep this small Italian, family owned and family run restaurant all to themselves. But—good or bad—foodies tend to dine and tell their dining experiences. Thus they soon find themselves boasting about their lunch or dinner at GianMarco’s to family, friends and co-workers, only to find them at the next table the following week.

“People wait for pasta; pasta does not wait for people,” co-owner Giani Respinto says. More than a quote, this visual image remains the mantra of GianMarco’s. In the open kitchen Marco makes magic happen, while servers stand awaiting the hot plates of food—verses the food getting cold waiting for servers. Each steaming plate of Italian made pastas with Old World texture and upscale Italian fare is quickly served to wide-eyed diners at candle lit tables. “God bless that things haven’t changed at GianMarco’s. The restaurant is as busy and vital as it has ever been,” he says. “We want the only change to be that we better today than we were yesterday.”

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, and often serves as host. Marco is the executive chef, and Giani, a chef himself, does a bit of everything, managing the restaurant including their catering business and beverage program. I have watched Marco’s sons, Joey and Michael grow up working in their father’s Homewood restaurant. From cleaning shrimp, peeling tomatoes and pitting olives—on both Saturdays and summers—to seating guests and waiting tables, this third generation of Respintos has learned the restaurant business.

GianMarco’s cuisine begins with the finest and freshest food, bought from reputable producers. The menu evolves as Marco “mixes and matches” flavors and ideas. And prices have remained the same for three years. “At GianMarco’s you can still get a white tablecloth meal and a glass of wine for $20,” Giani says proudly. “And in these economic times we are seeing more people splitting dishes. But we don’t mind.”

Arriving at 6:30 for our dinner reservations, the restaurant is already busting with every table filled. The ambience is comfortable fine dining. Our server eloquently describes tonight’s specials—and there are several. The Ahi Grade Yellow Fin Tuna, Bone In Veal Chop, and Louisiana Red Fish Creole tempt. But instead we opt for an appetizer special of Fried Zucchini, a Summer Salad, and an entrée filet of Yellow Edge Grouper. And from the regular dinner menu, we select a starter of Little Neck Clams and an entrée of Fettuccini Alfredo with Gulf Shrimp.

Dinner begins with fresh hot bread—dark and white.  From the extensive wine list we select a bottle of Suavia Soave Classico Covento 2005. The full-bodied white has a crisp acidity is light enough for this summer night and big enough for Italian fare. In our starter of Fried Zucchini,  fresh, fried Southern veggies marry well with Italian. Thin slivers of crisp and golden zucchini, drizzled with melted mozzarella cheese are piled high on a white platter beside a bowl of Marco’s Marinara. Next arrive the Summer Salad and Little Neck Clams. The salad is a mix of quartered yellow and red heirloom tomatoes, thinly sliced and diced cucumber and shaved red onion tossed in a light, crisp acidic dressing. And the Little Neck Clams—of perfect medium size—are gorgeous, tender and not chewy, with added flavor derived from their cooking companions of white wine, basil, garlic and chili.

As guests depart, Joey and Michael quickly transform tables in size and shape to accommodate the next reservation. A server sets these tables and hand polishes the stemware. Others dash about delivering the steaming plates of pasta—just as I recalled—and a new addition of an Italian style black, lidded, hot pot.

Soon our own steaming entrees arrive to the table. The seared Yellow Edge Grouper is top quality, filled with flavor, tender and moist. It rises above a bed of dark black linguine dotted with tasty cuttlefish and tender clams with gorgeous shells. And the black linguine has a unique richness that lays the foundation for this serious fish dish. The Fettuccini Alfredo with Gulf Shrimp is as good as Italian gets. Ribbons of fettuccini tossed in Alfredo fill the plate. There is a delicate and obvious balance of sauce to pasta ratio, which allows the pasta’s Old World texture and earthy flavors to shine though, rather than being drowned in sauce. This rich white sauce adheres to each noodle, synthesizing both the structure and flavors of each. Large, beautiful, pink Gulf Shrimp—simply sautéed with butter, salt and pepper—crown the pasta. I have never before tasted shrimp as full of flavor and cooked to such perfection. Every bite of this delicious dish comforts my soul and fulfills my appetite.

The desserts at GianMarco’s are also divine. Memories of GianMarco’s Granny Apple Pinwheel bring us back for more. This large handmade crust is filled with tender apples baked until golden and topped with caramel sauce and cinnamon ice cream.

As we depart not only is every table in the dining room filled, so are the tables in the bar as well as the bar stools. Call ahead for reservations because “Pasta does not wait for people” at GianMarco’s!

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