After his family’s decades-old, Transit Road restaurant, Carmine’s, burned to the ground last year, Michael Jacobbi took the opportunity to capitalize on Buffalo’s continuing momentum to open a new operation within city limits. That restaurant, Giacobbi’s Cucina Citta, served its first meal to downtown patrons in late May.
Located on Allen Street near Franklin, in a no-frills space formerly occupied by Presto, Giacobbi’s dishes up homey Italian-American fare in belly-filling portions. The menu is made navigable by a system of categories that includes small plates, meatballs, pasta, salads, breads, zuppa, artisan pizza, and entrees.
Bread service is not complimentary at Giacobbi’s but can be ordered for $2—an upcharge I am personally willing to pay if the accoutrements are a notch above standard. The bread itself was not the soulful, expertly crafted stuff you’ll find at a place like Breadhive, but it was warm and chewy—a perfectly serviceable vehicle for the garlic and herb infused oil and perfectly room temperature pimento and olive compound butter that came with it.
For an appetizer, we opted for the Italian nachos ($10) for no other reason than it seemed gimmicky. Described as pasta sheets, fried like chips, and topped with Hungarian peppers, olives, ground Italian sausage, spicy marinara, and melted mozzarella, the nachos had less kick than I expected. And unlike tortilla chips, the fried pasta did not hold up to the moisture of the toppings. Only the portions of the pasta untouched by marinara remained crunchy, making it more of a fork-and-knife dish than a finger food. Dissimilitude to traditional nachos aside, the toppings amounted to something uncomplicatedly tasty, in a down-home, sloppy joe sort of way. My dinner companion liked it enough to remark that the dish would have worked better as Italian taco dip—that is, with the pasta “chips” on the side, integrity in tact.
A classically prepared ground beef and pork lasagna ($14), striated with creamy ricotta, fared much better in terms of execution and won me over for its close semblance to my mother’s, which is the benchmark against which I judge all other lasagnas. It seems that Nonna “Giacobbi” and Mama Hartney have very similar red sauce recipes, both of which fall at the sweeter end of the spectrum. It was a simple, comforting dish that left me interested in trying Giacobbi’s other riff on lasagna—one that substitutes fried eggplant for the pasta sheets. According to the menu, it was a favorite at Carmine’s before it closed.
From the entrée section, we opted for chicken Milanese ($15). Here, pan-fried chicken cutlets came two to an order alongside a lightly dressed baby arugula and grape tomato salad. While it did not end up usurping my favorite rendition of chicken Milanese in town for want of a little salt in the salad and a crunchier, clingier coating on the chicken, I would order it again.
Giacobbi’s is a casual, straightforward Italian-American restaurant well suited for family gatherings, especially where children are involved. It is not inventive, high-end, or gourmet dining, but, then again, it does not purport to be. Instead, it promises “cherished family recipes” and “a wide variety of dishes…for everyone.”
Serving lunch and dinner, Giacobbi’s opens daily at 11:30 a.m. It also offers drop-off catering for special occasions and office functions.