Giovanni’s is a west side Italian gem

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Don’t let the shoddy exterior fool you. You might pass this place by thinking it’s a dilapidated pizzeria, but that’s just to throw off the east-siders playing tourist. Inside Giovanni’s is that nice little neighborhood Italian place you’ve been looking for.

Italians take an excessive amount of pride in their food and it’s obvious here. If you dig into the menu you’ll see the signs: fresh marinara, daily tossed dough, homemade Italian dressing, handcrafted garlic knots (think cinnamon rolls with the cinnamon and sugar replaced with garlic and butter). But I usually find that the one dish that sets an Italian place part from the rest of the pack is eggplant rollatini. The eggplant is sliced super thin and the cook’s personal trademark ingredients are wrapped inside, covered with fresh marinara and cheese, then baked. Giovanni’s uses a humble mix of spinach, onions, and mushrooms in theirs. If I’m going overboard talking about one dish, it’s because this one takes time, so not many places make it. If they bother, it shows the care their take in all their food.

You’ll also find pizzaiola penne (pasta with sausage, onions, and peppers—this can be a real belchfest while you’re savoring your Tiramisu) and stuffed tortellini in a cream tomato sauce. But I’d recommend you try some of their baked pasta specialties, like the trio delight (sampler of chicken parmigiano, lasagna, and stuffed shells) or the skillet creations, like puttanesca (red wine, fresh basil, garlic, and pepperoni sautéed and topped with a black olive red sauce and cheese). New favorites you have yet to try abound here. Needless to say (but I will anyway) Giovanni’s is a well-kept secret that’s all about the food.

Giovanni’s Family Italian Restaurante, 4050 North Bend Rd., Cheviot, (513) 389-9777. $7–$15. Lunch and dinner Tues–Sun.

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