Unpolished gem

Share on Nextdoor
At Giorgio's you can get a grilled cheese sandwich for $2.65 or veal Marsala for $11.50 or steak Diane for $14. It looks like a retro lunch counter on a scrappy corner in Oak Park, but choose from the "Counterside Gourmet" section of the menu, and you might well be in a little Italian trattoria.

The basic menu includes the usual lunch-counter food, though the hamburger special comes with chutney and bordelaise sauce. Other luncheon specials include lamb-burger gyros, spinach pie and chicken or beef kebabs.

Then there's the gourmet section, as well as a separate pasta menu with 11 dishes to choose from, ranging from a traditional spaghetti Bolognese (tomato and meat sauce) for $10 to penne scampi for $13. Co-owner Giorgio Golematis explains his conception on the menu: "In Italy the best pasta can be found at the tiniest trattorias hidden away on side streets." I'm fond of such diamonds in the rough too, and Giorgio's certainly qualifies.

I ordered spaghetti salmone ($12.50) one evening and enjoyed the enormous bowl filled with pasta and a light, fresh-cooked tomato and cream sauce tossed with hefty chunks of grilled salmon. On another evening I had Grecian pasta, which was not quite as interesting: Ziti noodles dressed with olive oil, feta cheese melting into a sauce, along with chopped fresh tomatoes and broccoli and (not enough) garlic.

My co-diner loved this place. He had the shrimp scampi ($12), which is cooked in lemon, butter, garlic and vermouth, served with rice richly seasoned with the same flavors.

Dinners come with soup, salad and a choice of potato or broccoli. A wider selection of vegetables would have been welcome, and need I say that there are no mixed baby greens at these prices? The bean soup was unusual with a tomato base; the lemon-rice soup was an unnatural shade of yellow and unnecessarily thickened with cornstarch.

Our critical teenager enjoyed the clam chowder and linguine alla vongole (more clams). On another occasion the co-diner had a 14-ounce pepper steak, rare (and rare it was), with a brandy-and-bordelaise sauce. It was a very good piece of meat for $14.

Dinner at Giorgio's is a deal, and plenty of loyal customers know it. The tiny eatery has mostly counter space and only two tables that seat more than two. It's hard for a person to walk through the place; I wouldn't try it in a wheelchair and the bathrooms are not handicap accessible.

On two trips for dinner the place was packed with a crowd ranging from teenagers talking about year-end grades (hers were not so good, he had his sights on med school, both ordered fried shrimp with french fries and ranch dressing), to new parents feeding their infant a bit of soup, to elderly ladies, one wearing a hat covered with frumpy pink-and-red silk roses that I coveted. There is a brisk takeout business, and Golematis plans to open a similar place in mid-August on Orchard Lake Road, just north of 15 Mile in West Bloomfield. Don’t worry; the Oak Park location will remain open.

On a shelf over the grill, right next to the foam takeout boxes, are bottles of Grand Marnier, Kirsch and other liqueurs used to make special desserts, such as cherries jubilee, peach flambé, and bananas Foster. Giorgio whips them up right at the grill, sets them aflame, and pours the fruit over Edy's vanilla ice cream in a thick, white bowl. One night he told the waiter, "no charge," as he set a bowl of bananas Foster in front of a customer and began to sing "Happy Birthday." The entire room joined in, staff and customers alike.

Happy Birthday Paul, whoever you are.

Elissa Karg dines for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].

Scroll to read more Food News articles


Join Detroit Metro Times Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.