Burned out on radicchio? Fed up with polenta? Got a hankering for a plate of oldfashioned spaghetti and meatballs?
Well then, maybe it’s time to revisit a culinary classic, a place that has changed little since it was first opened 35 years ago by Shirley and Geno Orlando, the one for whom the restaurant was named and a secondgeneration Italian. (Geno died 10 years ago and the Orlandos’ daughter, Gina, is now the manager.)
When I moved to Spokane 10 years ago, Geno’s was the place to eat Italian. It wasn’t uncommon to have to wait for a table.
Diners sat at tables covered with red checkered tableclothes and feasted on tender pasta and gooey pizza.
A recent return visit was dining deja vu.
After walking in through the weathered wooden door, feelings of nostalgia kicked in as the aroma reminded me of pizza parlors I had gone to as a kid. Back when pizza was still considered exotic.
Everything about Geno’s reminds me of the old-time, family-style restaurant.
Aside from the candlelight and tablecloths, the ambience is minimal. There are some faded murals on the walls and a couple of glowing beer signs. Some of the seats in the booths are a bit lumpy after decades of use. And unless someone drops some change into the jukebox, there’s no background music. (Naturally, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin are among the jukebox selections, along with early ‘90s phenoms C+C Music Factory and a corny version of “Happy Birthday.”)
But the atmosphere is beside the point. The plentiful portions of pasta and other Italian dishes are the main attraction. Prices have inched up over the years, but it’s still possible to stuff yourself for well under $10. Halforders are even more reasonable.
Choices center around noodles in various shapes and sizes smothered with Geno’s simple, yet zesty red sauce. Pasta can be ordered with homemade meatballs, Italian sausage or both.
For cheese lovers, there is plenty stuffed in between layers of noodles in the lasagna and the manicotti.
Other selections are old-fashioned favorites that have been snubbed by trendier eateries. They include chicken cacciatore and veal Parmesan .
During a recent dinner, I went for my old standby, spaghetti with red sauce.
Dinner at Geno’s starts with soup - a light beef stock with tiny pasta settling in the bottom of the cup. It’s served with saltines in a cellophane wrapper, another old-fashioned touch. The soup is rather plain and a little on the salty side, but somehow satisfying.
Next, a small tossed salad comes with a loaf of soft, warm French bread. The salad is iceberg lettuce - year-round - but the dressing is very good, a tangy Italian vinaigrette. And diners have the option of adding some kick to their salad by dipping into the bowl of pepperoncini that adorns each table.
When my platter of pasta arrived, nearly overflowing off the sides of the plate, I was assured of leftovers for lunch. The portions are huge. Lighter eaters should go for the half-orders.
My companion ordered the ravioli, which used to be made on premises but is now purchased from vendors. It’s still one of the best dishes served. The tender pasta pockets are filled with a ground beef mixture and topped with the marinara sauce.
Waitresses at Geno’s are treated like family. One has been working there for 20 years; a couple of others have 10 years of service. Consequently, even if you look remotely familiar, you’re treated like a regular. Even if you’re a new face, the service is friendly and efficient.
Finally, if, after all that food, you’ve managed to save room for dessert, you can forget about gelato, biscotti or tiramisu. Order a bowl of spumoni, the perfect finish to an oldfashioned meal.
xxxx Geno’s Pizza and Italian Dinners Address/phone: 1414 N. Hamilton, 487-9541 Meals: old-fashioned Italian Prices: $6.50-$8.50 Days, hours: Tues.-Sat.; 5-10 p.m.; pizza available until 11 p.m.; midnight on Fri. and Sat. Alcohol: beer and wine Smoking: non-smoking area Reservations: recommended for large parties Credit cards: no Personal checks: yes