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Geno's: A little slice of Italy in the South

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I love finding unique places to eat that serve honest, delicious food. That may sound sort of silly because everyone loves that don’t they? What I mean is neighborhood restaurants that people consider “our place”.

Geno's is a gem

These are great little holes in the wall that have been fixtures in their towns for years and serve a simple, limited menu of great food. It’s even better when these restaurants are seemingly out of their element. It’s like finding a great Cajun restaurant in Oklahoma, or a great barbeque joint on the coast.

You could imagine my excitement when a wrong turn showed me Geno’s, an Italian restaurant in North Louisiana. Yes you read that right.

So my boss Rita and I are in North Louisiana calling on clients when a wrong turn on 8th St. off of Louisville in Monroe, LA brings Geno’s restaurant into view. The green, white, and red gave me pause. I love a good Italian restaurant, but “There’s no way this place is worth a squat.” I thought to myself.

The sign read, “Celebrating 50 years in business!” I looked a Rita and she said, “You want to give it a shot?” “I sure do” I shot back. My thinking is that it’s highly unlikely that there’s a good Italian restaurant in Monroe. But fifty years is fifty years. They have to be doing something right.

A time machine named Geno's

It’s a quarter to noon so we park the car and walk in. The door creaks; the daylight gives way to the dimly lit dining room, and the sounds of Sinatra, Martin, Lawford, Bishop, and Davis, Jr. welcome you in. Playing The Rat Pack is so cliche'...it's perfect.

“Holy spaghetti” I thought. I know that there is no such thing as a time machine, but I swear that door just transported us back 60 years.

There are red and white checkered, vinyl table cloths; old, basket woven bottomed chianti bottles with the remains of a few hundred candles painted down their sides; framed black and white photos on the walls; and the smell of that garlic bread that haunts me to this day.

I told Rita, “This is the real deal.” She looked at me and said rhetorically, “Uh, ya think?” No one’s in the front so we make our way down a narrow, short hall to the back where the bar is. It’s there where we met out waitress, a pleasant, young lady named Melanie.

She introduced herself, showed us the menu (which is encased in a plastic table tent), took our drink orders, and off she went.

We took a moment to appreciate the atmosphere. There were a few people there, obviously locals. Just behind me two men sat and talked about retirement. One says, “Look Sal,” yes, his name was Sal. “Look Sal, I got three thousand coming in every month no matter what. So maybe I sell some life insurance on the side. What can it hurt?” Now he’s saying all of this with a southern accent. I thought I was in the Twilight Zone for a moment.

Geno's from the beginning

An older lady brought our drinks and some of the best garlic bread you will ever eat. No really it’s that good, and I’ve had some garlic bread in my life. Her name was Phyllis and we asked her about the place. She told us that it was opened by her dad, Geno, fifty years ago and she has been there since day one.

She mentioned that the food really hasn’t changed much over the years and that her brother, a retired colonel, is the chef in back. She told us how much people love their courtyard for evening dining, and how she still enjoys being here every day. There was an unmistakable sparkle in her eyes as she was telling us about her restaurant that let us know just how much she loves the place.

The courtyard is lovely by the way. Romantic little white iron tables with those same waxed chianti bottles are underneath draped clear white lights, and flowers everywhere.

Old school Italian menu with local favorites

We order a muffaletta to share. I’m a muffaletta nut. It is my favorite sandwich, and whenever a restaurant touts theirs is the best, I’m game.

I probably should have gotten some pasta with sauce (gravy), but I saw a few plates and I know it’s good. How do I know? Because it smells good and it’s not red. It’s a dark crimson, kind of a rusty color. That’s how it’s supposed to look. So unless they cooked it with an old gym sock and a can of tuna in the pot it’s good.

How else do I know it’s good? Because everyone else in the place had a plate on front of them.

After a couple more glasses of tea and baskets of garlic bread (did I mention how good the garlic bread is) our food arrives and it’s great. It’s real…good…Italian…food.

They offer things like gumbo and Crawfish Alfredo over angel hair and I’m sure it’s great, because everything else is.

The prices are more than reasonable, and if you don’t leave there feeling both full and happy you have no soul. It really is that simple.

By the time we finished eating the place was packed. Both dining rooms were full and people were starting to sit in the courtyard.

Just like Mama's

Look, this place is so authentic I’m waiting for Deniro, Pesci, and Liotta to come out of the back at any moment.

If I haven’t made it clear, I love this place. I will go back any time I am within an hour’s drive. It’s that good.

Geno’s is the perfect mix of authentic Italian food and atmosphere with southern hospitality. You can’t go wrong. If you’re in the neighborhood stop by and let Mrs. Phyllis and Melanie take care of you. They’ll treat you like family.

Stay hungry.

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