If there was one item that encapsulated the essence of Giorgio’s, it would be the big wooden kitchen table that sat in the basement among the sinks and prep stations.
“My mom would never say no to anyone,” said Rocco Meraglia whose parents, Cosimina and Giorgio opened Giorgio’s in 1984. “If it was busy, we would seat people downstairs and they would sit at this table and eat while dishes were being done.”
After a while, regular patrons requested that table.
“It was like a backstage pass, even if it wasn’t busy, they’d still want to sit downstairs with my mom,” said Meraglia.
The table always had a thin layer of flour — it was where the women would roll the ravioli and gnocchi. There was a plastic cover, but when guests arrived it was transformed with a tablecloth and bright candle.
Meraglia and his sister Rosanna worked at the family restaurant after school and on holidays.
“It was like slave labour,” he laughed. “It was a fun, fun time. It was such a social place. There was a big Somali taxi population who spoke Italian. In the afternoons when it wasn’t busy they’d come in and sit and talk with my dad.”
Politicians, hockey players, Howie Mandel also dined at Giorgio’s, and a mining engineer once sat on that prominent table and introduced a young Meraglia to the trade and shaped the course of his life: “That’s what I’ve done all my life. I still do it now for a living. I still see him and his wife,” he said of his chosen career path.
It’s been decades since Giorgio’s has closed, but Sandra Piro can still recall the taste of its signature fried zucchini.
The Italian eatery — since replaced by The Point condominium development on 47 Street — was known for its takeout lunches that were infused with authentic ingredients and love from the family who made them.
“The food was incredible. Homemade bread and mortadella (sausage) sandwiches. Pasta e fagioli. A soup that was so delicious… The smell of red wine takes me back to their house every time I smell it.” said Piro.
Darin North was a teenager when he began visiting Giorgio’s.
“Cosimina and Giorgio used to cook and drink red wine in their basement across the street in the house. They turned a portion of their basement into a pantry-kitchen, the family being Italian and all,” said North, who visited the store twice a week.
He recalled the wine was stored in glass jugs, not bottles.
“You know the glass jugs with a ring for the finger and you put the jug up on your forearm and pour it back into your mouth like back in the prohibition days,” he said.
Everything was always made from scratch, said several former patrons, with a crowd favourite being the lasagna. For North, it introduced him to a style of cooking and spices and herbs he had never tasted before, some that customers could purchase on site to cook at home.
“My favourite era of Giorgio’s is when it was a convenience store and takeout place. Giorgio himself would sit on a stool inside the front door, and would catch the attention of my young daughter and sneak her a candy from the shelves,” said Peter Cullen.
He recalled an image of Cosimina emerging from the cellar with a huge steaming tray of something fresh and aromatic.
“She has the most beautiful skin and eyes, maybe the kindest eyes I’ve ever seen.”
Cullen remembered grabbing a couple of Brios (drinks), containers of food and heading home to enjoy family dinner.
“She showered her people with love and cooked some of the most delicious, homemade food on the planet.”