Serving home-style Italian American cuisine, Joanne Trattoria is a rustic gem sitting on 68th Street just minutes away from the Empire Hotel. Owner Joe Germanotta tells us the cuisine is “food that is not complicated, but labor intensive.” They make their meatballs from scratch, as well as lasagna and fresh focaccia. Head to Joanne for the type of food your grandma would prep for a holiday. Joe is very familiar with his staff and describes the restaurant as an Italian version of the show Cheers, where everyone knows everyone. Guests from around the world come to enjoy the cuisine and the atmosphere.
People also come from as far as South Africa and Brazil, to catch a glimpse of Joe, (he is Lady Gaga’s father!), and he enjoys hearing about their travels.
We got the exclusive opportunity to interview Joe Germanotta about the restaurant.
What inspired you to open a restaurant?
I wanted to own a restaurant since I was a kid. I had a senior project in high school and chose to do it on owning a restaurant. I went to Michigan State University to study Hotel and Restaurant Management but instead going into the operations side after graduation, I went into accounting, working on feasibility studies. After a while my career got hijacked by the information technology boom starting with software, followed by licensing then telecommunications, so I was pretty much retired. This opportunity came up and I embraced it because I didn’t have much to do, but now I have too much to do!
What is the most difficult aspect of running a restaurant?
There is a lot more to the [restaurant] business than what is on the cover. The most difficult function of running a restaurant is building a team. If the staff does not function as a team, customers notice and the restaurant suffers. It is surprisingly difficult to find good people for the kitchen, bar and table waiting. It is easy to find a waitress but not a waitress that customers will remember and request upon return. I am proud to have some of those waitresses.
How does your restaurant differ from others?
The family feel of the restaurant and the attention to detail attract regular customers. Every night at 7 o’clock everyone in the neighborhood comes to watch Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune while enjoying a couple of cocktails. We make 15 gallons of sauce every other day in a big kettle. After chopping up fresh ingredients and letting them simmer we throw in some plum tomatoes to have some fresh gravy ready for the night.
Do you hold private events?
The restaurant is great for parties because our food is served family style. We set up the dining room with salumi and cheese boards with olives and focaccia and put a wine station on the patio or in the dining room. We offer a sit down dinner with a preselected menu of salad or soup, 2 or 3 entrée choices and desert with the choice of red velvet cake, coconut liquor cake or tiramisu.
How did you choose the Upper West Side?
I live two blocks from here; this is my stomping ground.
What is your favorite dish?
Papa G’s Chicken Scarpariello. My 2nd favorite dish is the lasagna and it’s only 2nd because if I ate it every day I would be bigger than I am. The Spaghetti With Meatballs, Spaghetti Bolognese, Chicken Parmesan and fish (grouper and mahi) are also very popular.
Scrambled eggs with thinly sliced pancetta
What is Gaga’s influence on the restaurant?
Everything related to food, she has an influence. She loves to cook and just as I am her biggest critic for her music, she is my biggest critic for the restaurant. She says, “you should have red onions,” or “this would be better if it had shaved shitake mushrooms.”
Calamari and clams and octopus with tomato gravy
Joanne’s daily specials include spaghetti and meatballs on Sunday for $17, a burger with mac & cheese Tuesday for $15, roasted prime rib with mashed potatoes on Wednesday and smoked spare ribs with bourbon infused maple syrup on Fridays and Saturdays. Vegetarian customers can enjoy eggplant parmesan and pasta primavera, and the quinoa pasta is popular among diners looking to eat gluten-free. Pizza is available by the bar every night and a new brunch item is breakfast pizza of lox with dill cream cheese and shaved arugula, available on Fridays and Sundays. We highly recommend this place!