Worth the Drive
Giovanni’s Italian food that the regulars rave about
To help celebrate Alabama’s 2012 “Year of Food,” each month freelance writer Jennifer Kornegay will take you to an out-of-the-way restaurant worth the drive.
Jennifer Kornegay 20 FEBRUARY 2012
he average American eats about 50 slices of pizza each year, or approximately 23 pounds. And while pizza is obviously not a Bamabred specialty, judging by the number of local pizza parlors and national chain locations across the state (you can even get it at your local gas station), pizza is pretty popular in the heart of Dixie. But, since we’ve established that you can get pizza almost anywhere, why should you venture very far to get a slice? The simple answer can be found in just one big bite from a slice of a Giovanni’s Special pizza, a taste explosion created by every topping imaginable piled on a not-too-thick, not-toothin, slightly chewy crust with just the right amount of savory sauce (never too much), smothered in several layers of gooey, melted cheese. Where can you find such a delight? Well, as suggested, Giovanni’s Special awaits you at a restaurant named (you guessed it) Giovanni’s, located in the little town of Oneonta (population 5,576) in northeast Alabama. Driving on Interstate 59 between Birmingham and Gadsden, you’ll pass the exit for Oneonta, and it’s highly likely that unless you live or work there, that’s exactly what you’ve done: gone right past Oneonta. But Giovanni’s is well worth an excursion off the interstate. Opened in 2001 by Gus and Linda Gondevas, Giovanni’s in Oneonta is actually the second location of the eatery. The first was opened in Albertville in the late ’90s by Gus’ brother Michael Gondevas and his wife, Anthula. Gus and Linda owned and ran a restaurant in New Jersey for 26 years before the building above their ground-floor space collapsed, destroying their livelihood in mere moments. The couple had visited Michael and Anthula in Albertville and really liked Alabama, so they picked up and headed south, settling in Oneonta and opening their Giovanni’s. In 2008, Gus and Linda retired, sell-
ing their spot to Michael and Anthula and another partner. The other partner was running the Oneonta location, but just a year later, he up and left, leaving loyal customers (who had come to regard the four Gondevases as family) begging to have Gus and Linda back in charge. In response, the couple came out of retirement and are now working to ensure the business they built stays successful. As with any good restaurant, the food is the star at Giovanni’s, and not just the afore-mentioned pizza. Other delicious Italian dishes including thick, hearty lasagna, calzones filled to the bursting with fresh ingredients, stuffed shells, fettuccine alfredo and Linda’s personal favorite, baked ziti, are featured on the large menu. As Linda says, “Everyone raves about our food. I could eat our baked ziti every day, and our pizza is a huge hit.” The cozy, homey place is always packed with locals, many of whom come time and time again. But plenty of others drive from Trussville, Birmingham, Gadsden and even farther for the Giovanni’s experience. The food is great, but so is the service, consistently friendly and attentive and very family friendly. There’s nothing noteworthy about the basic décor, but the atmosphere is warm and inviting, thanks to the regulars who often have conversations across tables, and Gus, who comes out from the kitchen to shake hands and check on his patrons. The Gondevases love their new hometown and its citizens and get real joy out of seeing the satisfied smiles and hearing the happy, full sighs of their customers. And Oneonta has returned the love. “The people in Oneonta really accepted us right away,” Linda says. “That makes me feel so good. It’s a small town, and coming from the North, we were outsiders. It could have been different, but everyone was and is so friendly.” And there’s more. In addition to www.alabamaliving.coop
Published on Feb 8, 2012