By Scott Sharot
What's in a name? When I asked our waitress, “Who or what is Geezamboni?” she told me (tongue firmly planted in cheek), “It's the name of the owner's cousin's wife's dog.” Then she laughed and said she'd been given permission to say whatever she wanted when people asked about the name. But don't let it confuse you. My friends were hesitant about joining me for dinner because they thought the place must be Italian. Italian it is not, original it is.
As you enter the building from the parking lot, you'll negotiate a quirky labyrinth of arty whimsy. It's not hard to tell this was a North Valley residence in another lifetime. The dining room is split into several small rooms with lava lamps, ceiling decorations and modern art highlighting the comfy little spaces. The outside patio matches the name somehow, with a blast of Caribbean color; all red, sea blue, yellow and corrugated tin roofs, which cover most of the tables. During the day, dappled shade from native trees dances on the uncovered tables and small beds of colorful flowers. At night, strings of lights make for a festive, though slightly under-lit, atmosphere (especially for the optically challenged like myself). The sound of water falling over rocks from an old fashioned well pump is a nice touch that sooths and mesmerizes as it trickles down the rocks into a nicely designed koi pond.
We went for lunch on the hottest day of the year, and we really wanted to sit on the patio but were afraid it would be too hot to sit outside. Imagine our surprise when we discovered it was quite comfortable, even in the heat. The reason for said coolness is a remarkable flexible blue plastic tube that spans the length of the row of covered tables. Praise to the techno gods! This giant blue tube is an evaporative cooler that actually does cool down the patio. It felt at least eight degrees cooler with the illusion of a Bosque breeze.
The wait staff is very professional and at the same time casual and friendly. Several servers are old timers that have been happily tending their stations, filled with regulars, for many years.
Most of the appetizers on the menu are the usual deep-fried bar fare like fried zucchini, cheese sticks or onion rings. You can also get stuffed grape leaves and hummus. We skipped the appetizers and went for some chilled gazpacho, which comes in three sizes that range from $2.25-$6.25. This authentic, full-flavored version of the chilled Spanish soup was very good, not too acidic and filled with lots of chopped vegetables. The dice on some of the vegetables was a little large for my taste and there were just a few too many sliced red onions, but that's a matter of my own personal bias.
Barbecue is king on this menu, which comes as no surprise since owner John Nellos grew up working for his dad Connie, who owns the very popular Quarters Barbecue places. John has mastered the art, and keeps busy this time of year catering lots of summer barbecues. Pork ribs, chicken, spicy hot links and brisket are offered as dinners and include your choice of soup or salad and a starch ($13.95 for a full order or $9.95 for a half order). Large platters are also available for bigger groups. My brisket-loving dinner companion was pleased with her delicious, lean brisket that was sliced at just the right thickness. The barbecue sauce is bright in color with a rich, full flavor which is nicely tangy and not quite sweet.
For a more cost effective taste, try the juicy, grilled barbecue chicken sandwich ($7.95). It's quite large and very tasty, and is served with a side dish and a pickle. You've got to ask for your pickle here so don't be shy; this one is a dilly. As a side, I like the potato salad best; theirs is robust and herby with just a touch of tarragon. You can choose curly fries instead (all jazzed-up with spices), regular French fries or a very respectable coleslaw. I prefer my slaw with more mayonnaise, but this one was pretty good.
There are also lots of other sandwiches and burgers that can be ordered all day long. My wife loved her veggie mushroom burger with cheese ($5.95).
You can wet your whistle with an ice-cold brew or a glass of wine. There is a great beer list of microbrews that includes labels like Old Rasputin Russian and Monty Python's Holy Grail that are often hard to find. You can also choose from six beers on tap.
No one in our group had room for dessert so we shared a tasty coffee chocolate cheesecake and a cupcake. Cupcakes are all the rage and back in style. You can order a carrot cupcake with cream cheese icing or the more conservative vanilla cupcake with a large swirl of outrageous vanilla butter cream on top. We opted for the vanilla, and were very pleased with our decision.
I could become a regular at a place like this. It has good food, the right comfort quotient and friendly service. Lucky I live nearby.
Geezamboni's Restaurant; 3851 Rio Grande NW; 345-3354; Hours: Mon-Fri 11 a.m.-2 p.m., 5-9 p.m., Sat 5-9 p.m.; Price Range: Inexpensive to Moderate; MasterCard, Visa and American Express accepted.
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