Gina Picerno was all smiles behind the bar of Santino’s Bar and Grill. Her dream had finally come true: She had just opened her own restaurant.
Gina had worked at Chubby’s until it closed recently. There was this perfect space in her hometown of Johnston available, but she needed help to acquire it, do some much-needed renovations and make it more family-friendly.
Enter Gina’s mother, brother, sister-in-law, boyfriend, grandmother and other assorted friends and relatives. With financial backing, renovation work and a ton of support, Gina now had her own place. She named the restaurant after her beloved grandfather, who passed away recently at age 91. Her grandparents were her inspiration, and her 89-year-old grandmother makes the tasty pepper biscuits that adorn the bar.
“Grandma taught me how to make them,” Gina said, “but I can’t make them as fast as she can.”
Santino’s opened a couple of weeks ago, and Gina has a grand Opening planned for June 14 and 15, with a wine and pizza party and entertainment by Brother to Brother. She is also planning a prime rib buffet with all the trimmings to celebrate Father’s Day.
Gina hired chef Walter Sosa, coming to her with nine years experience at Bugaboo Creek. He also cooked at the Texas Roadhouse and 1149.
Sosa prepared the specialty of the house for us, The Santino Signature Burger, an 8-ounce custom ground-blended all-American 100 percent Black Angus Beef Chuck and Short Rib patty, served on their signature bun with lettuce, tomato, red onion, topped with gorgonzola and crispy bacon, and a generous portion of sweet potato fries with a special sauce ($9.99).
The grilled pizza menu includes the Philly Pizza, with shaved rib eye steak, marsala mushrooms, sautéed peppers, cara-melized onions and pepper jack cheese ($8.99). We chose the Margarita Pizza with marinated fresh tomato, basil, extra virgin olive oil, fresh mozzarella and parmesan cheese ($8.50). The crust was perfectly thin and the pizza as tasty as could be.
Gina is particularly proud of the salad menu, featuring Sandy’s Salad, which consists of Romaine lettuce topped with gorgonzala cheese and tossed lightly with extra virgin oil ($6.99).
“Don’t mess with it,” Gina warns. “It’s just the way my grandfather liked it.”
A customer at the bar shared some of his Calamari “A La Mama” with us, and we’ll be back for more. At $9.99, the portion was more than enough for two. Sautéed in garlic butter, lemon, white wine and Italian parsley, the lightly coated calamari was as tender as could be.
Gina and Chef Walter are still playing with the menu and plan to add daily specials. (We hear that Sosa cooks up a mean paella.) Most of their food is locally grown, and they carry two types of gluten free beers and one vodka, in addition to gluten free pizzas and breads.
Santini’s has a dining room and a large bar with additional tables, seating 70 people, with a capacity of 142.
Serving lunch and dinner, the bar and grill gets busy in the evening, with Trivia Night on Monday, karaoke on Tuesday, Throwback night on Thursday featuring music of the ’80s and ’90s and live entertainment on Fridays.
Santino’s, at 1200 Hartford Ave. in Johnston, near the corner of Atwood and Hartford Avenues, is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Their telephone is 272-0882 and e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
The recent addition to the town of Johnston is a true family affair. A plaque at the entrance closes with “Family is forever.”