Customers love it when Giuseppe Guardascione emerges from his restaurant kitchen and greets them at their table. They rave about his chicken cacciatore or his calamari marinara or his veal marsala.
And Guardascione, who's known to everyone as Joe, loves them right back. As celebrated as he is for his Neapolitan-inspired Italian cookery, he admits he got into the business because he's a people person.
That may be the reason why, for the past 2 1/2 years, Gennaro's Pizza and Restaurant has been a destination for Weeki Wachee locals looking for a tasty alternative to chain eateries in Spring Hill.
Located in a small plaza next to the Heather Golf and Country Club and within a short drive of several 55+ communities, weekends often see the tidy 119-seat restaurant at capacity.
No wonder. From pasta to meat and chicken dishes — and, of course, pizza — generous servings don't come with hefty price tags. Diners who choose entrees such as cheese-rich chicken Parmesan ($13.95), the garlic-laced shrimp scampi ($14.95) or the tomato-laden veal pizzaiola ($15.95) are pretty much guaranteed that they'll be going home with leftovers.
Guardascione, 57, who was born in Naples, admits that becoming a restaurateur wasn't his vocation of choice when he immigrated to the United States in 1978. But after a stint driving trucks, he began imagining himself running a dining establishment like the one his uncle owned in Naples.
With his wife, Cathy, he launched his original Gennaro's in Palm Harbor. After moving first to Hudson, and later Spring Hill, the couple settled on their present location.
With a strong penchant for the culinary traditions of his native country, Guardascione believes nothing should leave the kitchen that isn't handmade. In addition to making fresh tomato sauce (his mother's recipe) and meatballs daily, his dishes contain only fresh, high-quality vegetables, meats and seafood from vendors and local markets that he selects himself.
Value is another tradition that Guardascione adheres to. Quick sandwiches and lunch items such as calzones ($7.75 small, $9.75 medium, $11.75 large) and strombolis ($9.95, $11.95, $13.95) are both huge and filling.
And for pizza lovers, Gennaro's offers 14-inch and 16-inch thin-crust pies in several varieties, (including a vegetarian-style white pizza with no sauce) that will easily feed a hungry family.
Although a bit off the beaten path, Guardascione likes where Gennaro's has landed. Many of his customers dine several times a week. And that kind of loyalty, he says, only comes with consistently doing things the right way.
"My customers know that I'm here to take care of them," Guardascione said. "And in return, they've taken pretty good care of me."
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or [email protected]