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Taste of Italy
Chef Nello Gioia brings the flavors of his hometown in northern Italy to his specialties at Ristorante Bergamo in Greenville.
Photo by Milton Morris
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Garlic, pancetta and pecorino cheese flavor this favorite dish.
Photo by Milton Morris
When you think of Italian fare, meatballs and lasagna may first come to mind. But Nello Gioia, chef and owner of Ristorante Bergamo, wants you to think again.
A native of Bergamo, a city located at the base of the Swiss Alps in northern Italy, Gioia has served the authentic flavors and traditions of his home from the same downtown Greenville corner for 30 years.
“In Bergamo and the surrounding region of northern Italy, the dishes are heavily influenced by neighboring countries, like Switzerland and France,” Gioia says. “So, you will find lighter sauces, more seafood, veal, polenta and softer cheeses.”
His firm commitment to fresh, seasonal ingredients is not a food trend. In fact, he was sourcing locally and from his personal greenhouse and herb gardens from the very beginning, long before farm-to-table and slow food were buzzwords. “Your food should always taste like the earth,” he says. “It should make your senses come alive!”
Depending on the ingredients available, Gioia features as many as 13 menu specials a day. A few of his regional specialties include polenta, a type of Italian cornmeal, which Gioia sautes with butter and sage and serves with snails wrapped in speck, a prosciutto from the Alps; chestnut-flour crepes stuffed with porcini mushrooms, shredded radicchio and Taleggio, a mild, Italian, semisoft cheese; and veal scaloppini sauteed in olive oil, dry white wine and aged balsamic.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Gioia studied chemical engineering in Bergamo and Milan. In the late 1970s, he accepted a position with a textile company and relocated to Greenville. Longing for dishes of his native land, he began cooking for friends. That’s when he discovered that his passion was in the kitchen and not on the road.
“Life was intense with work and travel,” he says. “After a while, the places, hotels and restaurants all looked the same, so I decided it was time to pursue my dream.”
Gioia opened Ristorante Bergamo in 1986 and never looked back. “I was one of the first restaurants downtown,” he says. “And here I am, 30 years later, serving three generations of diners. It’s incredible.”
In the kitchen by 8:30 a.m., Gioia still makes everything from scratch, including sauces, biscotti and gelatos. He even makes the mozzarella for his sought-after risotto special.
“Everything on the menu honors cultural traditions and satisfies the senses,” Gioia says. “It’s as close to my homeland as you will find.”
1 tablespoon minced garlic
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 ounces of chopped pancetta or bacon
1 egg per person
¾ cup finely grated pecorino cheese, at room temperature
Freshly ground black pepper
3–4 ounces of fresh linguine pasta per person
Heat a large pot of water for the pasta. In a large saute pan over medium heat, saute garlic in olive oil until lightly brown. Add chopped pancetta or bacon, and cook until crispy. In a mixing bowl, beat one egg yolk per person. Add grated pecorino cheese, cooked pancetta and a good dose of freshly ground black pepper. Add pasta to pot of heated water, and cook until al dente (a little firm). Add a tablespoon of warm water from the pot of cooking pasta to the bowl with the carbonara sauce. When pasta is cooked, drain and add to the bowl of the carbonara sauce, and stir. The residual heat of the pasta should create a smooth, creamy sauce with no remaining liquid. Add salt as needed.
100 N. Main St., Greenville | (864) 271-8667 | ristorantebergamo.com
Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Reservations are recommended.