1780 S. Victoria Ave., No. D, Ventura
Somehow, they’ve been doing it for years.
Managing to stay under the public radar, they’ve been smuggling high-quality goods in and out of a little storefront on Victoria Avenue in Ventura, taking payments, amping up their assets and giving incentives to cops and other government employees.
They are the Giovanni family, and their business is pizza.
An institution in Montecito and Carpinteria, Giovanni’s opened up in Ventura, in the Ralphs shopping center, several years ago.
Famous for its Italian pizzas, the order-at-the-counter restaurant also serves pasta, sandwiches and salads. They offer a 20 percent discount to government employees with ID.
Earlier this month, two friends and I dined at the Ventura restaurant. The day was hot and after ordering a classic pepperoni pizza (for my friends) and a vegetarian pizza (for me), we sat outside, underneath the awnings.
The restaurant décor — sparse but clean — follows the color scheme of the Italian flag, red, green and white.
Even though it was lunch hour, the pizza parlor was uncrowded, and the three no-nonsense workers, who we could see through the storefront window, looked like they had been making pizzas from the womb. Their grizzled hands carefully chopped the veggies: mushrooms, bell peppers, onions and olives, their chiseled Italian features assessed the dough, studied the sauce.
It appeared they were making darn good pizzas, and it appeared they knew it.
Like any hardcore outfit, the Giovanni’s have had their scuffles. The most recent one, though, is in cyberspace. That’s because there are actually two separate chains of Giovanni’s restaurants, both claiming to have the best pizza.
On its Web site, the chain in Ventura, Carpinteria and Montecito calls itself “The Original” Giovanni’s. The other group, located in Santa Barbara and Goleta, calls itself the “founding family of Giovanni’s Pizza Restaurants,” according to its Web site, giovannispizzasb.com.
Where the truth lies is anyone’s guess, but good luck getting information out of the Ventura location. I casually asked the man who took our order about it, who said the Ventura restaurant was operated by the original Giovanni family, but also that the restaurant was the “exact same” as the ones in Santa Barbara.
Whatever that means.
He didn’t offer any information other than that, and after glancing at the expression on his face, I didn’t feel like pressing him.
He looked like he was just as capable of flattening a person as he was of flattening a pizza.
So I sat down and few minutes later my vegetarian pizza arrived, hand-delivered by The Flattener himself.
The pepperoni was already steaming on table, and so we dug in.
By the looks of it, the pizza makers went heavy on the pepperoni, light on the sauce and generously sprinkled herbs over the entire dish. Both parties raved about the pizza, one especially liked how little sauce was used and the other got excited about the thinness of the crust, which was slightly crunchy, he said.
As for the veggie, I was impressed by how many mushrooms, bell peppers, onions and olives they had crammed onto the eight-inch pizza, which was made with thin crust as well, a new option at the restaurant. A small, seven-inch, deep-dish pizza is also offered, along with the standard medium, large and extra-large sizes.
For the amount of toppings and the quality of ingredients (think less grease, more real cheese and fresh vegetables), the pizzas were also reasonably priced. The large, 14-inch pepperoni rang in at $14.95 and the small veggie cost $6.95.
The overall consensus between the other two diners and I was clear.
Giovanni’s pizzas are good – dangerously good.