Gino’s was discovered quite by accident. When my wife’s coiffeur, Giovanni Badalamenti of Francesco & Giovanni, learned that I was a food writer/restaurant critic, he urged us to visit Gino’s Ristorante & Pizzeria on Ridge Pike, a restaurant that has been owned by his family for nearly 40 years.
Gino’s was originally founded by Giovanni, Sr., who learned his culinary skills at the famous Angelo’s of Mulberry Street in New York’s Little Italy. Two years ago, however, the culinary torch was passed and son Giacomo took over the restaurant’s reins, with his cousin, Chef Pino Mineo, assuming the power behind the stove.
And it really didn’t take the boys long to get their act together… While remaining at the same address, the establishment moved next door to more spacious quarters, which included a larger dining area and banquet hall. A new menu quickly followed, along with other improvements to both food and service.
Gino’s dining area would hardly be considered intimate, bordering, in fact, on the utilitarian; but the room is bright & airy and the tables & chairs comfortable & nicely spaced. If you’re looking for a bit more privacy, try to snare one of the booths along the interior wall.
Gino’s loyal clientele is an eclectic mix – couples, families, parties large & small – and the majority of patrons generally have a bottle of wine in tow (the restaurant is BYOB). Good food deserves the accompaniment of good wine, and diners here are knowledgeable enough to respond appropriately. To me, that’s an extremely positive sign.
And speaking of food… it is uncompromisingly southern Italian. If you lust after red sauce, you’ve just found your Neapolitan Nirvana. And portions, as you might expect, are prodigious. So unless you happen to have the appetite of a ravening hyena, a doggy bag(s) will undoubtedly be de rigueur.
To start things off, you discover an overabundance of cold & hot appetizers, cold antipasti, soups, sides, and salads. Interestingly enough, the spinach, broccoli, and broccoli rabe – all sautéed in garlic and olive oil – are listed among the hot appetizers rather than with the side dishes. It hardly matters, however, as all are prepared to perfection. The mountain of spinach – vividly verdant of color and tender of countenance – is highly recommended.
On the other hand, if you happen to be a bivalve fan, the mussels are always a good bet. Palate-pleasingly plump and at the very peak of good health, they swim to table in a broth of garlic & olive oil or rich marinara sauce. The former is particularly noteworthy, as the broth is tinged with an ingratiating hint of lemon.
Should you decide to take the salad route, however, just be advised that the complimentary version – available with a number of entrées – is, as in many restaurants, generic at best. Far better, in my opinion, to spend a few extra bucks and invest in the house salad, which is spruced up with olives and artichokes. And, for just a few dollars more, you can tie into the Italian salad (replete with romaine, provolone cheese, and fresh vegetables), white meat tuna salad, Caesar, grilled chicken, scallop, or crab, all of which are plenteously suitable for sharing.
Among the main courses, veal is a solid choice. Whatever your particular predilection – and all the usual suspects are present and accounted for – you will be treated to the genuine article, beautifully textured and pleasantly chewy of – not that mushy, wet cardboard processed imposter offered up in lesser establishments. The Puttanesca, medallions sautéed with sliced black olives & capers in an excellent plum tomato sauce, is a definite winner… ditto the Sorrento, topped with prosciutto, eggplant, and mozzarella finished in a white wine sauce, and the Marsala, companioned by prosciutto and mushrooms.
You also can’t miss with the al forno, baked items. The eggplant parmesan, for example consists of layer upon layer of wafer thin, perfectly cooked eggplant rife with cheese and smothered in a superlative marinara. The portion size borders on the gargantuan. And other possibilities – meat tortellini, lasagna, manicotti, and cheese ravioli – are equally generous and equally well prepared.
But if you happen to be more in the mood for a traditional pasta dinner, you may choose your favorite starch and then match it up with your favorite sauce. Recently sampled, for instance, was a monstrous mound of al dente spaghetti adorned with a hearty Bolognese accompanied by two huge links of sweet Italian sausage. The presentation was so generous we froze the leftover in three separate portions for future enjoyment.
There are also a host of Italian sandwiches and, of course, pizza… both the 16” Neapolitan with a variety of extras and individual 12” specialty pizzas. In this latter category, we recently enjoyed the Abruzzi, a topping of sweet Italian soppressata and roasted peppers.
As an added incentive, bear in mind that each weekend the restaurant imports a plethora of fresh fish – sole, branzino, snapper – along with veal chops and other specialties, to which the kitchen devotes all of its considerable culinary skills.
Desserts, made locally but not on the premises, are worth considering – if your stomach isn’t already filled to capacity. The New York apple crumb cake is quite good, as is the Italian cheesecake. Other options include the ubiquitous tiramisu, cannoli, and regular cheesecake.
If you enjoy well-prepared southern Italian cookery served up in plentiful portions, Gino’s is definitely worth a visit.
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