Tonawanda News — Mary Ann Giordano hopes customers don’t get the wrong idea when they realize part of the name of her new Kenmore restaurant — GiGi’s Cucina Povera — means “peasant cooking” in Italian.
“It’s comfort food and it’s things that people crave,” she said of the menu, which features an eclectic mix of what she describes as Sicilian and Mediterranean food.
To be clear, this is no Italian restaurant taking occupancy on Kenmore Avenue in the former home of O’Connell’s American Bistro and Hourglass restaurant.
“There really isn’t a categorization on Urban Spoon or Yelp for what we are,” Giordano said of GiGi’s, which opened June 14 and is named after her daughter, Gabriella Giordano.
Sicily is “part of Italy, (but its culture is) actually more broad because it’s an island and it was conquered many times by many cultures. It’s kind of a melting pot of cultures,” combing the likes of Greek, Arab, Viking, Roman and Norman influences.
As such, the menu features a variety of small plates, pastas and appetizers instead of going heavy on large, one-dish entrees. Giordano encourages customers to select multiple dishes and share with each other.
It’s the unique combination of flavors and ingredients, she says, that makes GiGi’s stand out.
There’s not much meat on Giordano’s menu — there’s only one steak on the menu — because by its very nature, it’s too expensive to be the main focus of traditional peasant food.
“People of Sicily couldn’t afford that type of food so it was very rare when they would kill the cow because they want the milk,” she said.
The menu features fried cardoons, a Sicilian standby of egg-battered and fried cardoon plants, which are found by foraging; cauliflower froggia, an omelette dressed with greens and pecorino; and chicken livers with marsala and sage.
“A lot of things I’m doing here aren’t just straight spaghetti and meatballs,” Giordano said. “You’ll see a lot of things on my menu you won’t see on other menus.”
Most of her recipes came passed down through generations. Her father’s mother came to the United States from Sicily aboard the Neapolitan Prince in July 1895.
“My father and I have cooked very closely together over the years. He learned to cook from his mother who is first-generation Sicilian,” she said.
It was her father’s dream to own a restaurant like his brothers — whom he looked up to even though he had a respectable enough job as a doctor. Giordano and brother both took that love of cooking from their father and made careers of it.
She studied hotel and restaurant management at Niagara University and also attended Green Mountain College in Vermont. She’s been a chef in Western New York for 30 years, at restaurants including the Creekview in Williamsville and Mother’s and Reginald’s in Buffalo.
Her brother is a chef in Charleston, S.C.
“Food is a passion that I love,” Giordano said. “I love to build things, I love to create things. You wrap that up in a kitchen and a restaurant.
“I’m hoping that we’ll be a really great addition to the Kenmore neighborhood.”• WHAT: GiGi's Cucina Povera • WHERE: 981 Kenmore Ave., Kenmore • FARE: Sicilian and Mediterranean • HOURS: 4 to 9 p.m. Sunday; 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 5 to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday • MORE INFORMATION: Call 877-8788 or visit www.gigiscucinapovera.com