Photos by Kaitlyn McQuaid
Chef Q and A with The Italian Social Club‘s
Executive Chef John Giannantonio
West Chester PA 19380
Q: So how many years have you been cooking?
A: 25 years.
Q: Whoa, whoa… how old are you?
A: I’m forty years old.
Q: You’re kidding? You look great. I would have never guessed, do you use Just For Men or is that all natural?
A: Nope, it’s all natural, I’ve just got good genes.
Q: Okay, sorry about that, anyway… back to the interview. So, 25 years. Where did you grow up?
A: I grew up in Delaware County and started working in a kitchen when I turned 15 years old.
Q: Did you work in a kitchen because you loved it or was it just a job?
A: My father made me get a job at that age. I remember going to my job after school when all my friends would go to sports practice or just hang out and and I would have to go to work at a restaurant. I worked at a very popular restaurant in Springfield and started with dishes. By the time I was a Senior in High School I was a full time line cook. Ever since I’ve just worked with food. Well, with the exception of construction work in the summer with my dad and I was a waiter once too.
Q: Where did you go from there?
A: My wife is from central Pennsylvania and I was cooking in Lewisburg, PA doing mostly American fusion for about 10 years and then it was time to move on to something new. We moved back to the area and when this job came up, I applied for it and I got it. I was hired in February of 2009 and I was very excited about the opportunity.
Q: It must be a unique situation to cook for a club verses a standard restaurant. What are some of the differences?
A: This position has been a very fun and challenging (in a good way). I was very excited to get back into real Italian cooking and they told me I had to come up with a menu and a staff within the first week I started. They didn’t have the dining room done yet so I didn’t know what to envision as the dining experience.
Q: How did you plan a menu for a space that had yet to be created?
A: I decided to go with dishes that I knew sold well or were popular at other restaurants where I worked and I focused on traditional Italian classics. I went back to my grandmother’s recipes that my mother always made, like lasagna. (He laughs) That lasagna is a pain to make because it takes forever, but it’s so worth it. It’s a timeless dish and people love it.
Q: Is there a secret to your cooking that everyone is raving about?
A: I use Carlino’s pasta, I think it’s the best so I want to serve the best to our customers. I also think that coming here should be like having dinner at home on a Sunday. Every mom has a special touch that they put into the food and I try to do that here for our guests. I spend a little too much time on dishes sometimes and that gets me into trouble. Oh yeah, (he jokingly adds) I’m also very OCD, I pay a lot of attention to the details. That’s the difference from an average dish to an incredible dish.
Q: People have said that The Italian Social Club has some of the best Italian food in the area for the most reasonable price. What’s your secret?
A: It’s a combination of having limited space and me wanting to put out the best food. Because we are a smaller establishment, I don’t have a lot of storage so I am always ordering fresh produce and ingredients. I order and make things fresh daily so they are vibrant and delicious. I also never want to copy other styles, I have to be true to myself. I’ve done that since I got the job and so far it’s been successful.
Q: Is the space a problem for seating?
A: During the week we aren’t as crowded but on the weekends you have to not mind waiting a little while for a table. It’s worth the wait but reservations are recommended.
Q: What can we look forward to in the next year from you?
A: I have no idea (he jokes). We will continue to do our Men’s Night on the third Monday of each month that sells out every time because for $25 we serve seven courses. We are going to start ladies night on the first Monday of the month and for $20 ladies will get chef’s choice courses including an appetizer, salad, pasta, entree and dessert. We will also be starting lunch in September where you can get half the dinner sized portions for half the price.
What is the Italian Social Club?
It’s a members club but non-members can come for dinner and a drink. You must be a member for more drinks or to use the bar. Anyone can apply for membership. Prices are $35 pp or $50 for married couples.
Special Shout out goes to Mario Berardi Jr, Vince Berardi, Tommy Ciccarone, John Barone and the others who helped bring this club to life.
Rigatoni alla Abruzzi: Sweet sausage, eggplant, onions, roma tomatoes, basil and fresh mozzarella. $14.50 (includes salad and bread)
Linguiine Pescatore: Sauteed mussels, slams, shrimp, scallops simmered in a light basil marinara. $19.00 (includes salad and bread)
Ravioli Aurora: Prosciutto, peas, onions, garlic, tomato, cream, Parmesan. $14.50 (includes salad and bread)
Happy Hours: Tuesday- Saturday 4:00pm- 6:00pm. Drafts $1.75, Mixed Drinks $4.00
Internet Jukebox, 2 Flat Screen TVs, Wine List, Minimal Beer list (but affordable beer)
Tuesday – Saturday 5pm-10pm