At this Eltingville trattoria, a “dynamic” chef team is at work gently reinventing italian classics

by Jessica Jones-Gorman • Photos By Robert Nuzzie

Every Tuesday at Giovanni’s Trattoria, Freddy Alvarez and Alessandro Colizza sit together at one of the Eltingville restaurant’s tables and just brainstorm. “We work well together; we have great chemistry,” noted Colizza, who co-owns the business and shares the title of executive chef with Alvarez. “Our menu is pretty basic, but we sit together once a week and devise eight or nine specials that are super seasonal and fresh…innovative and creative.”

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Dishes like an Eggplant Carrozza, sliced thin and layered with goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes and basil, served with an heirloom tomato medley. Or a Soft Shell Crab Fra Diavolo served over homemade pasta.

“We both like to work with only the freshest ingredients,” Colizza said. “Because when the basil is fresh and you have beautiful extra virgin olive oil with garlic and great tomatoes, the rest of the recipe doesn’t have to be very sophisticated. The dish will just speak for itself. Sometimes simple is really just best.”

For Colizza, who handles the wood-burning pizza oven and crafts Giovanni’s signature oblong pizzas, it’s a cooking philosophy he adopted when he was just 14 years old.

“I started cooking with my family at a very young age and then went to culinary school because I was so interested in it,” Colizza said. “After I graduated, I traveled through Europe, working in different countries and learning from a variety of chefs. I also worked in an international restaurant in the Cayman Islands before moving to Miami. I worked in two different restaurants there before coming to New York.”

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Colizza has been at Giovanni’s for the past 10 years.

“We try to do something a little different,” Colizza said, explaining his latest push to add a late-night menu to the trattoria’s current offerings. “We’re going to feature stuffed meatballs…burrata pizza—finger foods with an Italian touch. But that’s how I love to cook: Taking traditional Italian favorites from my native Abruzzi and adding a little creative twist.”

Alvarez, who creates Italian apps and entrees, comes from the same school of thought.

“I can’t really explain what happens, but I see an ingredient and can build and even plate an entire dish right there in my head,” he said. “I love to experiment; I’m never afraid to try something new.”

Alvarez also started cooking as a child, learning under the tutelage of his grandmother, who was blind.

“I was amazed by all that she could do,” he recalled. “We’re of Spanish descent, so she taught me how to make paella and other traditional Spanish dishes, but she honestly could cook anything, so I learned a lot.”

Alvarez took his first kitchen job at the age of 13, washing dishes at a deli during his summers off from school.

“I would watch the chef as he cooked, until he asked why I kept looking at him,” he laughed. “He told me to jump in and help, so I did.”

He got his first food preparation job at 19, making salads and desserts for a small Italian eatery, then worked at Sammy’s Steakhouse, handling catering and helping out in the main kitchen on Friday nights, and journeyed to several other restaurants before joining the staff of Giovanni’s 12 years ago.

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“I like to do a little bit of everything,” Alvarez said. “This is an Italian place, but I love Asian and Polynesian influences. In the summer, I’ll gut and grill an entire pineapple and fill it with fried calamari. I marinate the calamari with pineapple juice, oil, and garlic, and then use the pineapple shell as a serving dish. It’s a really great presentation.”

Alvarez defines his specials as “way out of the box,” with a focus on fresh meats and veggies.

“In the summer I like to put fish on the grill, then plate it with grilled vegetables,” he said. “Light, fresh, and healthy. I think those are some of the best flavors around.”

Giovanni’s Trattoria
3800 Richmond Avenue / 718.227.3914 / giovannis.nyc