As you head out of the coffee bar and into the dining room of Ristorante Da Giovannino, look up and and you’ll see the gold plaque from grateful clients celebrating Da Giovannino‘s one hundredth anniversary.
The plaque was a mille grazie from a few of us “non-locals” (Jan and Caroline are Dutch) to Mauro (son of Giovannino) and his chidden, Fabio and Martina, for their hundredth-anniversary festa.
Giovannino’s has been a reference point for all of us living in the Assisi countryside around the tiny hamlet of Ponte Grande (about 5 km east of Assisi).
When we married in 1978, Pino and I had no phone in our farmhouse but there was a booth in the corner of the coffee bar at Ristorante Da Giovannino, per fortuna. Giovannino and his wife Aurora jotted down on a piece of paper those calling to RSVP our invitations.
And they cooked our wedding lunch (all the meats raised by us….but that’s another tale in itself…)
When we’d moved to the Assisi countryside in 1975 to work the land, we walked to Giovannino’s to buy our bread, for there was a small grocery store just behind the coffee bar. After we were able to afford an old beat-up Gilera 150 motorcycle, we’d ride down. Sometimes, we’d buy prosciutto, too.
After I became a tour guide, I created a Rural Life Revisited tour focussed on meeting our rural neighbors, knowing the people who’ve made Italy. The perfect starting point for this tour? Ristorante Da Giovannino….
…..where I’d introduce rural life, rural customs in a chat over espressi. In the adjacent small alimentari (grocery store), a beaming Giovannino would proudly show my tour guests the goodness of rural Umbria: prosciutto…..
……capocollo, salami, and pecorino cheeses, his grandson Fabio often assisting.
If we started our tour in the afternoon, Giovannino might offer us vino and perhaps bread slices topped with prosciutto – or mortadella.
I asked Giovannino years ago what in the world local farm people would need to buy there as most everything they ate was fruit of their labors on the land: in 1975 when we moved to Umbria, many of our rural neighbors were tenant farmers with very little cash. Giovanni answered, “Now and then, we’d sell a couple dried anchovies or salted codfish. Coffee, sugar, too.”
By the 1960’s, Giovannino and his wife Aurora opened a room near the alimentari for ballroom dancing on Saturday nights, serving just light foods; eventually, they opened a small restaurant, Aurora at the burners, Giovannino serving at table.
That ristorante was filled in early September for the anniversario of the Ristorante Da Giovannino – which had originated with Giovannino’s father-in-law, Edoardo, as a small sale-tabacchi (where salts and tobacco products were sold, both state monopolies).
Giovannino – who died at the age of 86 in 2014 – would have smiled that anniversario evening to see his granddaughter Martina, serving up the tasty foods she’d prepared along with her mother and staff: their family’s offering to all their guests (about 400).
Martina’s brother Fabio was at the beverage table outside, smiling as he offered guests an aperitivo prior to their feast.
And what a feast.
The buffet started with an endless array of antipasti…
….followed by lasagne…
…and a Ristorante Da Giovannino favorite, penne alla norcina (the sauce made with ground local sausage simmered in white wine and diced garlic, then mixed with cream):
For those who had room, a variety of meats tempted..
Near the buffet, chatting diners shared buonissimi dishes as they sipped wines.
When the dining room filled, the overflow moved to the outdoor tables
…..and eventually, Giovannino’s family even started setting up tables in the coffee bar area:
Giovannino’s son, Mauro, manned the bar there, serving wines and aperitivi. But he’d have to pause now and then to accept one of the numerous gifts brought by the many appassionati of Ristorante Da Giovannino:
I remember Giovannino sitting at the table across from the bar counter in a carefully-pressed pristinely white shirt – always with that inimitable Giovannino beam – the year he turned eighty-six.
In colder weather, he might have on his navy blue sweater. But he was always at the same table, chatting with whoever dropped in. And always beaming:
And here in the bar in September, Mauro posed for a photo with a surprise gift: a group of young men who’d grown up in the surrounding countryside, all wearing black “Ristorante da Giovannino – 100 Anni” t-shirts……
….with their sopranomi (literally, “name above” or “name on top”, ie, nickname), printed on the backs….
……were ready to sing outside, with a guitarist accompanying them:
Calling themselves I Ragazzi del ’80 (‘The guys of the 80’s”), they sang and guffawed as they recounted memories in Umbrian rural dialect, the lights on them flashing blue, reds, purples..
That beaming Giovannino is no longer with us but “Da Giovannino” will always be a magnet, drawing people together.
Read about the wild boar hunters who gather at Giovannino’s
Read about feasting on polenta at Ristorante Da Giovannino
Read about the truffle hunters who converge at Giovannino’s
Read about a wild asparagus hunt near Giovannino’s