In the beginning, there was Geno’s, an unpretentious, traditional, red-checkered-tablecloth Italian joint on North Hamilton Street near Gonzaga University.
Geno’s 2.0 arrived in November 2011, under new owner William Webster. The décor took a turn to the industrial, with vintage circus accents similar to Webster’s previous project, Zola. The menu remained Italian-themed but became more diverse and upscale.
Now Geno’s has again reinvented itself, as part of The Elk’s growing empire of area restaurants, and the third time is indeed charming.
The interior is cleaner and brighter, full of light wood, with only some circus trailer siding on a couple of walls and in the bar recalling the former incarnation.
About the only thing on the regular menu that still speaks to Italy is the sun-dried tomato ravioli. Many of the dishes are familiar from The Elk and its sister eateries –Two Seven in Spokane, Moon Time in Coeur d’Alene and The Porch in Hayden – including such mainstays as the roasted garlic and onion bread, Southwestern taco salad, Moon Burger and 74th St. Gumbo.
Among the new wrinkles at Geno’s are Vietnamese-style chicken wings with curry dipping sauce; spinach salad with quinoa, carrots, edamame, dried cranberries, toasted pumpkin seeds and orange/ginger/miso dressing; a Korean pork sandwich with spicy kimchi slaw; and pineapple chicken curry. It’s also the only one in the restaurant group to offer french fries with sandwiches.
During a recent visit, a mac-and-cheese special, studded with ham and fragrant from smoky cheddar, was satisfyingly rich and creamy without crossing into dangerous decadence. My dining companion deemed the Reuben, with tender corned beef tucked into pumpernickel-dark rye, the best he’s had since the legendary days of Hooligan & Hannigan’s downtown.
That’s a name people still remember, though the place is long gone. And at this rate, through all its twists and turns, Geno’s won’t soon be forgotten, either.