One woman's passion for cooking has been positively impacting the taste buds of valley residents for the last month.
The Buds don't expect it to stop anytime soon!
Lori Vinka was in the midst of a career as a social worker when the economic downturn hit too close to home. After 20 years on the job, Vinka was laid off and out of work.
A chance to move in a new direction finally presented itself after nearly a year of searching when Vinka caught wind that the Zontini's in Bellaire planned to close up shop.
Lil' Gerardo's, offering fresh baked Italian-style foods, is now open at the site of the former Zontini's Pizza on Belmont Street in Bellaire. The menu is limited but everything on it, aside from the sausage, is homemade. Uuuummm ... homemade meatballs, bread and sauce. The Buds are suckers for homemade anything, especially when there's bread and cheese involved!
Patrons can treat themselves to one of Lil' Gerardo's baked or fried pepperoni rolls - which happen to be becoming quite the sensation, old school pepperoni rolls which have extra cheese and sauce added to the inside, meatball hoagies, the meatball deluxe - a meatball hoagie served on a pepperoni roll (interesting indeed!), sausage hoagies loaded with yummy peppers and onions and calzones loaded with three cheeses. Meatballs, pepperoni or sausage may also be added to the calzones for an additional buck.
But that's not all. Lil' Gerardo's also serves up homemade spaghetti and meatball dinners on the first and third Tuesday of each month and lasagna dinners on the second and fourth Tuesdays. Each dinner includes bread and rings in at 7 bucks.
Since Lil' Gerardo's is carry-out only, the Buds called in their orders and took them home to enjoy.
Both Buds were immediately roped in by the lure of their popular pepperoni rolls. Older residents of Bellaire and the surrounding area still remember the pepperoni rolls Vinka's father, Jerry Ciofani, made famous at his pizza shop where the Rite Aid currently stands in town. Today, she is utilizing the same recipe.
The large rolls rang in at $2.50 each and are worth every cent. The deep-fried rolls offer that extra crunch of texture and flavor, blending provolone and mozzarella with the pepperoni. Warm, gooey goodness! They could only have been better if the Buds had remembered to order the side of sauce for an additional quarter. Doh!
Bud Em also ordered a meatball hoagie to take home. The calzone was a bit smaller than those we've seen before but tasty just the same. The homemade dough was light and fresh and it was packed with ricotta, mozzarella and provolone cheeses. The homemade meatballs were tender and full of flavor. Delicious! Bud Em notes that it would be even better with a side of sauce, so keep that in mind when ordering.
Being a Tuesday, Bud Shaunna was delighted to get to try the homemade lasagna. This generous portion of cheesy lasagna was not too saucy and had delicious chunks of meat throughout - Bud Shaunna suspects it was a blend of sausage and beef, as the flavor was mild. Yum! Served with two slices of fresh, soft white bread, this dinner was well worth $7.
Many folks are singing the praises of Lil' Gerardo's on the business's Facebook page, and now the Buds know why! You can add us to the list of growing fans. Lil' Gerardo's is truly quite the lil' gem.
The Buds can be reached at tastebuds@ timesleaderonline.com