The prospect of cooking dinner was, at best, unappealing. So when, on our way to the grocery store, we spotted Giovanni's, it didn't take much for my children to convince us grown-ups it would be fun to eat out.
Giovanni's Italian Specialies looks like a fast food restaurant. Patrons buy food at the counter and carry it to the tables, which they are asked to clear when they've finished eating. The menu is a big poster on the wall behind the counter; the knives and forks are plastic, and the plates are paper. But the coleus cuttings in bottles sitting on the six tables and the hanging plants and planters decorating the room are real. And the food - now that's Italian.
My sons split a generous order of lasagna, for $2.80, which I sampled at my 7-year old's insistence. The sauce was tangy and tasty.
All the main dishes come with Italian bread, brought fresh daily from a bakery in D.C., and a salad with home-made Italian dressing.
My daughter had a foot-long hero, $2.20, made with cheeses, four kinds of Italian meat, lettuce, tomato, onion and Italian sauce. The bread was rather thick and crusty. She could not finish her hero, but my brother-in-law did and said it was one of the best he'd ever eaten. He ordered shells stuffed with meat and cheese and smothered in a tomato sauce, for $2.65, which he said was also very good; however, there was a bay leaf left in the sauce that he did not enjoy biting into.
My combination plate, for $3, contained a huge meat ball which was delicious, ravioli which was okay and the only item not made on the premises, and spinach pie, a crusty bread filled with spinach and cheese. Had it been freshly made, it probably would have been excellent, but, still, it was good.
My sister had two slices of Sicilian pizza, 80 cents each, which, although different from the pizza we were accustomed to, was good. The thick, bread-like crust was topped with black olives, pepperoni, cheese and tomato.
The owner, John Barba, said that pizza is not one of the specialties and is not always available. He said the restaurant specializes in homestyle, southern Italian dishes.
Other menu items include eggplant parmesan, $2.80, Italian beef barbecue, $1.80, and pepperoni loaf, $1.50.
A highchair caught my 5-year-old's eye and he exclaimed to my sister who is expecting a baby very soon, "Good. We can even bring the baby here."
Smoking is not permitted, which pleased my sister but could be inconvenient for some and no alcoholic beverages are sold.
The children finished eating first and went to the glass case at the end of the counter to look at desserts. Although the meal had been filling, we couldn't resist the temptation and split three desserts among us - chocolate cheesecake, cannoli, a flaky pastry filled with cream and made fresh daily, and Black Forest cake, a chocolate cake filled with whipped cream. Other desserts include eclairs, tarts and custards, ranging in price from 75 cents to $1.50.
Dinner for the six of us including tax, came to $15.03; dessert, including tax, $4.16.
Giovanni's Italian Specialties, 9278A Old Keene Mill Road, Rolling Valley Mall, Burke, Va., 455-4545; closed Mondays, open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 9p.m. Friday and Saturday. Accessible to the handicapped. Does not accept credit cards. Takes traveler's checks and personal checks from the area. Ample parking in front of restaurant.