2017-05-26 / On The Town

Fresh food, family-friendly staff in Ventura

Acorn Epicurean
Ela Lindsay

AT YOUR SERVICE—Sicily by Gino co-owners and husband and wife team, Chef Gino and Connie Milano. 
ELA LINDSAY/Acorn Newspapers AT YOUR SERVICE—Sicily by Gino co-owners and husband and wife team, Chef Gino and Connie Milano. ELA LINDSAY/Acorn Newspapers What do you get when you marry a talented chef from Sicily with a feisty gal from Scotland? You get a fabulous Italian restaurant with authentic food and warm, welcoming customer service that’s sure to have you coming back time and time again.

Sicily by Gino on Main Street in downtown Ventura is the place to go when you’re craving Italian goodies, whether you’re on a fun shopping spree in the area, catching a movie right next door or just enjoying the sunny weather in this city with friends and visitors.

It becomes obvious when you’re there why seating is only available by reservation on the weekends—and why you should probably plan ahead during the week as well. No. 1, the food is amazing; hot, fresh, made-from-scratch goodies abound. And No. 2, space inside the tastefully designed restaurant and on the tiny outside patio is at a premium, especially since Sicily by Gino is only open from 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays.

Gino Milano, co-owner of the establishment and its hands-on chef extraordinaire, said that starting in June the restaurant will be adding lunch service from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., so there soon will be more opportunities for guests to sample the goods.

His wife and co-owner, Connie Milano, says that although the restaurant attracts new guests and visitors all the time—like the night people from eight countries showed up for dinner—many of her customers are regulars. Whenever these patrons arrived on the night I was there, Connie seemed to know just what everyone wanted to order.

“We run a family business. The staff as well as our customers are family,” she said in a lovely Scottish brogue that seems almost out of place in an Italian restaurant. But it’s obvious the experienced business owner is dedicated to running the front-of-the-house with passion and precision.

However, it’s definitely the food that’s the main course at Sicily by Gino. Starting with hot, homemade pizza-dough-type bread that practically steams its way to the table, the bar is set high for what’s to come.

The bread was so delish that it was impossible to resist trying their pizza, which was some of the best I’ve ever had—thincrusted, prosciutto-laden with fresh arugula and a surprise mozzarella ball and olives in the middle. It was a spectacular chef’s choice.

In addition, the meatballs are bite-size bits of heaven and the gnocchi perfectly crafted and bathed in a creamy pink sauce that will make you want to lick the plate clean. Shrimp lovers will enjoy the creamy lemon saffron sauce appetizer. And if you love eggplant, try some of Gino’s popular parmigiana in a delightful tomato sauce with Parmesan and mozzarella.

Of course, there’s also other Italian favorites like spaghetti, fettuccine Alfredo and chicken Marsala, to name just a few. But what makes the dishes special is the care and attention to detail. The recipes are simple and the simply fabulous fresh food is homemade.

The lasagna, another guest favorite, is made using Gino’s mom’s recipe from Sicily. That’s where the chef started in the restaurant biz at the age of 11. The 60-something gent has since been involved in about 25 restaurants in nearly 50 years, said his wife.

“He would start another one tomorrow,” she said, noting her hubby’s passion for the business. “He has it in his blood.”

Gino and Connie definitely know what they’re doing. They also own three restaurants in Vancouver, Canada, as well as the popular Gino’s Sicilian Express pizzeria at 12 W. Figueroa St. in Santa Barbara.

Their passion for serving great food in great atmospheres with panache and dedication is also spilling over to the Villa Isabella B&B and cooking school in Pergusa, Sicily.

“It’s our retirement,” Connie said.

Knowing the Milanos, this will not be the kind of retirement where they just sip drinks by the pool. This couple is driven to please.

Sicily by Gino is at 563 E. Main St., Ventura. It’s open from 5 to 9 p.m. every day but Monday, or you can drop by for happy hour from 3 to 5 p.m. on weekends when beer is $3, wine is $5 and pizza just $10.

For reservations or more information, call (805) 641-2220.

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