the Italian issue

“Mama” Grace Marino

“Gino’s is the most authentic old- world Italian experience in town. Overseeing it all is the legendary Grace “Mama” Marino, a woman whose culinary smarts and work ethic go unmatched.” —Jay Ducote, Baton Rouge food blogger​

G race “Mama” Marino is a culinary icon. In the 1960s she gave many people in Baton Rouge their first taste of authentic Sicilian food at her restaurant, Gino’s. Mama, as she is called by practically everyone, was born in Agrigento, Sicily. She and her husband Vincent and three children Lorenzo (Laurence), Francesca (Frances) and Gino immigrated to the United States in 1958. The family spoke little English, but they adapted. Vincent opened a liquor distributorship on Perkins Road. Mama followed with the restaurant in 1966. The original location on Perkins across the street from Vincent’s storefront was a cozy, 40-seat spot. Wax-draped Chianti candles decorated the tables. Mama had always been an avid cook, and she quickly introduced many of her family’s recipes from Agrigento to her customers in Baton Rouge. One recipe was for a Sicilian street food, arancini — rice balls stuffed with ground beef that are coated with breadcrumbs and deep-fried. Though they are usually served with a ragú, or red sauce, Mama thought people in Baton Rouge not used to Sicilian-style food would prefer

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their arancini plain. She quickly realized she underestimated Baton Rouge’s worldly palate and added the sauce. The original Gino’s was so popular that in the mid-seventies the Marinos decided to expand. The family moved into their current larger spot on Bennington Avenue off College Drive. Mama was the first recipient of the Baton Rouge Epicurean Society’s Lifetime Culinary Achievement Award. It has since been named after her. Gino Marino says that his mother’s motto has always been: “use the best ingredients,” whether they are Italian or local. “Mama is a fanatic about good ingredients because you know that the end result is going to be good,” says Gino, in tribute to his mom. But the real ingredient in Mama’s success is family. “Not a day has gone by in the past 50 years where a family member hasn’t been here,” Gino says. Though Mama is now in her 90s and isn’t at the restaurant as often, when she is, customers know with a garnish of fresh basil on each plate she makes. It’s her way of letting people know Mama is home.


DiGiulio Brothers Italian Café on Perkins has been serving Italian American classics like five-cheese lasagna with a meatball, veal Marsala and hand-tossed pizzas for 25 years. It’s a great neighborhood restaurant with a family feel. Try the spaghetti and meatballs or homemade lasagna at Monjunis Italian Café & Grocery. This nearly 30-year-old restaurant is famous for its red sauce. Just ask the readers of 225 Magazine. They voted it Best of 225 two years in a row. The Italian braided sesame Village Bread at the Little Village is a must starter. The menu has plenty of other favorites like toasted ravioli, roasted artichokes with jumbo lump crabmeat, veal Milanese and seafood arancini. Two locations: Airline Highway and downtown Baton Rouge. When you want fine dining Italian, Nino’s on Bluebonnet is a small and cozy farm-to-table Italian restaurant serving carbonara with house made guanciale, wild boar Bolognese, antipasto with house cured charcuterie and homemade desserts.



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