Famous for fresh food and large portions, Giovanni's Best of Italy in Northfield is a family-owned and operated business that has been in the area for more than 20 years. It should come as little surprise that families are the kind of customers the restaurant tends to attract.
Founded by three brothers-in-law from Sicily - Giovanni Rifici, 58, Salvatore Caltabellotta, 57, and Fortunato Mistretta, 63 - they opened the business in April 1990. You can't be around that long without giving the customers what they want.
As many new restaurants have opened in the area, the core of regular customers has begun to thin out a bit, maybe forgetting about their once-favorite place. And there is always a customer or two who claim they didn't know the restaurant was right there on Tilton Road all that time.
Caltabellotta's son, Frank, 24, is looking to change all that.
Frank Caltabellotta, who calls himself "the son who thinks he knows everything," has recently taken over the marketing duties for the restaurant, setting up new promotions and bringing Giovanni's into the digital age.
With increasing competition from new restaurants and knowing that times are tight for all families, Giovanni's is constantly coming up with special offers and new ways for local families to eat well and still save a few bucks in the process.
"It isn't so much that we are changing the menu, it's that we are trying to give people new deals," says Frank Caltabellotta, who now offers 10 lunch specials Mondays through Fridays. Lunch specials change on a daily basis and are faxed to local businesses.
On a recent Monday, the lunch menu included a long list of specials that included sandwich choices such as a Black angus burger topped with fried onions, American cheese, lettuce and tomato on a Kaiser roll; Philly cheesesteak on a soft roll with cheddar cheese and fried onion; chicken Francaise on panini bread with melted cheese; and ham, Swiss, turkey, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise on rye bread. At the low price of $6.95 each, all are served with a choice of french fries or onion rings and a soda.
Platters ($7.95) are served with soup or salad and bread. Chicken parmigiana comes with spaghetti, linguine with meatballs.
"We are famous for our chicken parm Mondays, when you can get it for $7.95," Caltabellotta says.
Salads ($7.95) include Cajun shrimp over a Caesar salad, or a mixed spring greens salad with tomato, cucumber, carrot, broccoli and cheese tortellini in a balsamic vinaigrette.
Pizza ($7) served with a soda, includes sausage, pepper, onion and mozzarella cheese or a personal Hawaiian pizza with ham and pineapple. A bacon cheesesteak stromboli with peppers and onions ($7) is another possible special.
Also on the menu was an assortment of three daily soups, and an all-day special of two large pizzas for $18.95, with a $2 charge for each additional topping. All these specials change on a daily basis.
"We consider ourselves artisans because a lot of the stuff we do, we still do the old way," Frank Caltabellotta says.
At Giovanni's, the meatballs are homemade and mozzarella sticks are cut and breaded in the kitchen. All soups are made from scratch. Sauces are made fresh and frequently, including the traditional tomato, marinara, fra diavolo, marsala and its house Giovanni sauce. Veal and chicken is tenderized and breaded in-house. Caltabellotta's mom makes arancini - those little fried rice balls - by hand as a special from time to time.
"There is a difference between Italian cuisine and Sicilian cuisine," Frank Caltabellotta says. "Northern Italy, above Rome, uses creamy French-style sauces like Alfredo and Milanese. Sicilian sauces can be spicier like marinara and fra diavolo."
Giovanni's has both.
Frank Caltabellotta doesn't really like describing the daily specials he runs from 3 to 6 p.m. Sundays to Thursdays as "Early bird specials." But whatever you choose to call them, they are another great deal.
For $11.95, you can choose between baked homemade lasagna, baked ziti with one meatball, sausage cacciatore over linguine, fettuccine Alfredo, gnocchi alla Giovanni, baked stuffed shells, baked manicotti, cheese ravioli or a choice of spaghetti, linguini, capellini or ziti served with meatballs or sausage.
Dishes for $12.95 include chicken parmigiana with pasta; chicken Milanese over penne pasta; flounder Francaise over pasta; eggplant rollatini with pasta; broiled flounder with choice of pasta, broccoli or spinach; and a choice of pasta with clams or mussels with marinara sauce or oil and garlic.
All dinners are served with a soup or salad, and choice of rice pudding, vanilla ice cream or dessert of the day.
The regular menu at Giovanni's Best of Italy includes a selection of appetizers that are a mix of Italian favorites and American standards. Fried zucchini sticks ($6.50), mussels in red sauce ($9.95) and squid made two ways - as fried calamari rings ($7.50) or fresh sauteed with oil and garlic, marinara, or fra diavolo sauce ($9.95) - is always available. Jalapeno poppers ($6.95), Buffalo wings ($8.50) and chicken fingers ($7.95) are all popular choices, too.
A large selection of salads includes antipasto ($8), chef's salad ($8), chicken Caesar salad ($8.95) and a garden salad ($5.95).
Cold and hot subs, wraps and cold or hot sandwiches are available, as are beef burgers in several different styles. Calzone, stromboli and panzarottis are all on the menu.
Italian and seafood specialties include all of the veal and chicken dishes from Marsala to cacciatore, and even a shrimp Parmigiana ($18.95) topped with mozzarella and baked to perfection.
It pays to be local
With all the new businesses that have opened up in the past year, Giovanni's wants to alert its customers to the all-new specials, and the restaurant has partnered with other local businesses in the area for some great deals.
If you are a holder of a Bootlegger's Club Card and come into Giovanni's, you will receive 15 percent off your dinner bill. Towne 16 and Tilton 9 movie stubs can be used until three days after their purchase for 15 percent off dinner as well. These deals cannot be combined with any other specials.
Pizza your way
Pizza comes in several forms including traditional, Sicilian, gourmet white pizza and deep dish. Knowing that, many people consider the crust the most important part of the pizza. Just ask, and you can have it made thick or thin to your liking. "We make our pizza by preference; if you want a thin crust we'll make a thin crust," Frank Caltabellotta says.
Salmon to drive for
People drive down from Philly for the salmon dinner special at Giovanni's. Sometimes prepared as blackened, sometimes served with olives and capers with a white wine sauce, the kitchen will make it any way the customer wants it. It is served as one of three dinner specials on Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays.