Old-School Italian

Giovanni’s lives up to its reputation so well, even leftovers spur memories
Photographs by William Demray

When I moved to Detroit four years ago, I wondered where I could go for good Italian. The same name kept coming up — Giovanni’s Ristorante — along with the phrase — “old school.” I was intrigued. “Old school” with regard to food means unfussy, at least to me. Who needs fancy if it’s truly good?

It took me exactly four years to get here. Giovanni’s is out of the way, in an odd section of Detroit anchored by an industrial power plant. For decades it’s been the meeting place of Ford executives, and my dinner companion on this particular evening was a former Ford employee. She fondly remembered her going-away party years before in Giovanni’s darkly lit quarters.

For all intents and purposes, we were both newcomers when we walked in. A woman offered to take our coats and led us to a cozy section of the restaurant lined with bookshelves and dotted with couples. I had seen the couple to our right the prior week at a brunch spot in Royal Oak. Clearly they’d made the trek to Giovanni’s, I thought, because it’s worth it.

And oh, it was. The other phrase I had always heard when it came to Giovanni’s was “lasagna,” as in, the best you’ve ever had. I was tempted to order something else from the menu, but I needed to know if the platitudes were true. After two gin martinis and a lightly crisp appetizer of calamari — and before a dessert of orange Creamsicle cheesecake reminiscent of childhood summer treats — our waitress delivered a plate of layer upon layer of thin, homemade pasta melded delicately with a hearty meat sauce and several cheeses.

The next night I warmed up the leftover lasagna in my oven. It tasted even better, confirming my belief that those who balk at leftovers are missing out. Of course, the food has to be good to start. As I savored Giovanni’s lasagna at my kitchen table, I remembered how good my mom’s version always tasted on the second day, too. Old school, indeed.

330 S. Oakwood Blvd., Detroit; 313-841-0122. L & D Tues.-Fri., D Sat. $25