By Jared Robison
Guest Contributor Foodie Unafraid of a Little Garlic
“Where is the best Italian food you’ve ever eaten?”
When asked this question, most people likely wouldn’t assume that answer to be Oklahoma City.
But, I stand by my strong opinion that Gabriella’s Italian Grill and Pizzeria is the best.
I am including Italy and coast to coast across the country…. for this Oklahoma born-and-bred Red Dirter…it’s the tops. Sure, it might be a little heavy for some diners’ liking and the servings might be a little robust for a lesser human. But, if I want to leave a dining experience completely and totally satisfied, emanating butter and garlic fumes for days, Gabriella’s, located at 1226 NE 63rd St., is where I am headed.
Anyone who calls themselves a true Oklahoma foodie knows the story of the Italian wonderment of Krebs, Okla.
In 1895, the Giacomo family migrated from the Castiglione region of Italy to Oklahoma, where, in 1953, their descendants began serving traditional Italian cuisine in a “relaxed, family environment” in Krebs in restaurants like Isle of Capri.
Fast forward to 2003 when Chef Vicki of the Giacomo family took her talents to South Padre Island and opened the original Gabriella’s. Six years later, another move landed Gabriella’s in Oklahoma City, occupying the old Kentucky Club.
Built in 1938, the Kentucky Club’s history rightly deserves a blog of its own. Let’s just suffice it to say that the former gambling den, dance hall and speakeasy is now the perfect backdrop for an enjoyable family dining experience.
Once you decide that an evening at Gabriella’s is in your future, do yourself a favor — take a few, long, hard looks at the menu online before you show up. At least familiarize yourself with the direction you might head, because once you enter the building and the overwhelming aroma of lovingly prepared Italian food hits your senses, you won’t know which way is up.
If you decide to forego the preview peak, let me help you out…
Before you start ordering, know this: You will likely overeat on perfectly buttered and toasted bread served with beautifully candied, crunchy garlic swimming in olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Opt for the side salad. Yes, it does cost a few bucks per person, but it is wonderfully simple and you’ll need it to satisfy your veggie quota for the evening.
Order more bread and load up on the dipping accoutrements as you will want them to sop up any remaining pasta sauce.
Start with the lamb fries. Admittedly, this is a selfish order, as I know that the wives in our dining group will likely forego these delicious morsels of absurd goodness; thus, allowing me to over-indulge.
The zuppli are also spectacular – parmesan risotto balls bursting with Italian sausage and mozzarella cheese.
At this point, there are decisions to be made…important decisions that will likely determine if you will experience tablemate order envy. No one wants order envy; it can haunt you for days.
Ask the server (who is likely of SE Oklahoma descent and will shoot you straight) about the specials and any recommendations they might have. Here is where the rubber meets the road.
As someone who is inherently passionate about food preparation, ordering, menu perusing and eating, I have come to notice that Gabriella’s patrons typically fall into two categories: (1) Those who experiment, trying to taste everything the menu has to offer (i.e., my good friend Jayme Ross), or, (2) Those who know what they could be missing out on and stick with consistency (yours truly).
I always have great intentions of getting something new, of broadening my horizons and experiencing something foreign and wonderful. Then, the panic sets in.
What if I don’t love it as much as my go-to order? What if my standby menu item is suddenly no longer on the menu? What if this is my last time to ever enjoy one of my favorite dishes on the planet?
I feel like I am watching myself order while floating outside my own body, a knee-jerk reaction that I have no control of! The server acknowledges me, and without hesitation, out it comes: “Coal Miner’s Spaghetti, please.”