A guide to living local in New Hampshire

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Dishing It Out:

Giorgio’s Ristorante
Is All about the People

By Marc Bouchard / Fiddlehead Contributing Writer

When you’ve been around restaurants as long as I have, you develop a second sense for what their unique focus is. Some are just about the food, or their microbrews, the latest fad or a particular style or “ethos.” In other words, they’re into themselves.

Giorgio’s Ristorante & Bar is all about people – their customers, especially their regulars. You can see it in the open layout of the rooms, the intelligent yet low-key décor, the concept of both the food and beverage menus and the people-friendly pricing. Most of all you can see it in the smiles of the diners.

“We’ve been in Milford for over 20 years, and we have a lot of very loyal customers,” said manager Deanna Byam. “It’s true that the Milford restaurant scene has grown considerably in recent years, yet they keep coming back because they know who we are, what we serve and that they can always count on us.”

Giorgio’s began at a different, much smaller location in Milford in 1996. It was the classic family affair with George Sklavounos (the real-life Giorgio of this story) leading the way, joined by his parents, Byam and brother Costas. The menu was primarily Italian.

By 2001 they had expanded to Merrimack, with a much larger facility and their first martini bar. The larger restaurant allowed them to expand their menu, while the bar made them southern New Hampshire’s pioneers in what was to become one of the hottest trends in modern dining.

Finally, in 2006 Sklavounos brought the expanded concept back to Milford with a brand-new building, constructed on the site of the former White Horse Inn. With the bar, an open kitchen and function space it soon became a hit.

Something else happened during the transformation: Sklavounos began to tap into his heritage. You see it in the Grecian columns that surround the entrance, the imported artwork from Thera/Santorini and in the addition of a substantial number of Greek dishes on the menu.

For diners this is especially fortuitous, given the lack of Greek restaurants in southern New Hampshire. But how have the Greek additions to the primarily Italian menu been received?

“Very well. Our braised lamb shank with mushroom risotto is a big seller, as is the coriander-crusted salmon” said Byam. “It’s an especially healthy option, served on a bed of chunky hummus with seared tomatoes and asparagus.”

She said the restaurant also offers a selection of salads, appetizers and meze – Greek appetizers like tzatziki with pita chips; Greek fries tossed in lemon, oregano and Romano; and bruschetta filo cups – somewhat similar to the small plates or tapas that are now so popular in urban areas.

It’s difficult to single out only one dish, but Byam thinks that Giorgio’s chicken Marsala is one of their hottest items. “It’s a special recipe with prosciutto, finished with melted provolone. For our regulars it’s true comfort food.”

That barely scratches the surface of Giorgio’s menu. Start your meal with one of their signature martinis. Ask about the seasonal options, like the Caramel-Apple or Pumpkin Martini.

Then try one of the Italian classics. They’ve got all the usual suspects such as veal parmesan, shrimp scampi and Mama’s Lasagna. Perhaps step outside the box for one of their more unique preparations like wild mushroom ravioli “carbonara” or daily homemade pasta specials.

End the repast with their unique baklava ice cream. It’s the irresistible combination of homemade baklava folded into Jake’s Old-Fashioned Vanilla Bean Ice Cream.

Remember that Giorgio’s offers a variety of promotions year-round including Buck-A-Shuck Oysters on Sundays; 2-for-$22 Classic Italian Entrees on Tuesday; and $8 Martinis on Thursdays.

On the third Wednesday of every month there are martini dinners. During the holidays Giorgio’s offers a popular Christmas Eve buffet that sells out every year. And their New Year’s Eve party includes dancing with a D.J.

In the last year Giorgio’s has expanded to a new location at 270 Granite St. in Manchester. You can’t miss it: it’s the striking structure that looks like a modern, Greek temple located immediately off Exit 5 of the Everett Turnpike. In addition to easy accessibility it boasts something many Manchester restaurants lack: its own parking lot.

Inside the Manchester facility there’s a restrained elegance. The dining room sparkles, and the attention to detail shows in every facet, from the arrangement of the tables to the spotless kitchen. The Sklavounos family obviously has an eye for more than just food. The décor is tasteful yet comfortable, highlighted by wall-sized Greek murals and breathtaking hand-blown lighting fixtures.

Yet, despite the expansion, at Giorgio’s it’s always all about the people. The Sklavounos family still works as a team with George as captain, Byam at the door, George’s brother Costas runs the Merrimack location and their father, still busy, making the homemade breads and pasta at their Merrimack location.

And as they enter their third decade serving Milford, Giorgio’s boasts not only a highly experienced staff, but the support of regulars who have been going there since 1996. That’s what family is all about.