Sticky, gooey, saucy fingers is hardly the idea that most people get when they think of an Italian restaurant, yet Tom Powers takes great pride in his barbecued pork ribs.
Powers, the owner of Giovanni's Pizza and Pasta in Menifee, had been raving so much about the sweet, bold flavor of his ribs, that we had to stop by and give them a try.
"We cook them right here on the premises for four to five hours", says the former bakery manager and marketing associate. "They roast in our ovens in a covered pan, that's what makes them so tender and juicy. After that, we slather them with barbecue sauce and then run them through our pizza oven to give them a shiny glaze."
Available for both lunch and dinner, they come as a half rack or full rack, accompanied with a choice of two sides, french fries, sauteed vegetables, mashed potatoes, or switch them out for the soup and salad bar.
"People tell me that they can't believe how much flavor these ribs have", says Powers. "I've had them tell me they prefer these ribs over their Moms'.
As for what kind of ribs he serves up, they're pork loin ribs. "Pork loin ribs have a little bit more meat on them than baby backs", he goes on to explain.
And sure enough, that's what we noticed the most, big chunks of tender, moist meat.
Powers continued, "And our full rack has thirteen bones, while most other places only give you nine or ten. Our half rack has six bones, when other places give you only four."
But what I noticed right away was how soft and moist the meat was. Powers guaranteed "fork off the bone", but these were "fall off the bone". Just pulling a bone from the rack caused much of the meat to slide right off. No fork and knife needed with these babies, just a couple of fingers and a well coordinated set of tongue and teeth could clean these bones off as well as a starving colony of army ants.
And the sauce? Mostly sweet and tangy, not overly spicy but quite mild, yet adding enough decadence to make Lady Gaga want to smear it all over her meat dress. Giovanni's also offers sauce options of "Sweet Chili" or "Honey Garlic", if you want something that will pry your eyes open a little wider.
For the side dishes, I ordered garlic mashed potatoes and sauteed vegetables. But Powers wanted me to try his new broccolini. It's not broccoli, but a cross between broccoli and kale, where the stalk is more thin, and the florets more small. Giovanni's steams it half-way where it's soft enough to chew, but still having a little crunch. I found it more flavorful than regular broccoli.
As for those garlic mashed potatoes, they're real mashed red potatoes, very creamy, slightly chunky, with the skin still on, and with only a light taste of garlic.
But why barbecued pork ribs at an Italian restaurant?
"The reason we brought in the ribs, steak, and salmon, because we're a family restaurant", says Powers. "It used to be if Mom wanted Italian, and Dad wanted ribs, they're going to Chili's. We want the whole family to come here."
Giovanni's Restaurant has been in Menifee since 1991. Powers bought it in February 2007. "When we took over, we removed the sugar from the sauces, relying on crushed pear tomatoes to provide that right bit of sweetness. We also introduced 90% lean ground sirloin for our meat sauce, before it was just 50% lean ground beef."
What many customers don't know is that Giovanni's offers all of its pasta dishes and sauces as gluten-free by request. Powers' wife Caroline has Celiac's disease, making her gluten-intolerant. "We're looking to make as many of our dishes gluten-free as possible." he notes. "We're also adding a couple of gluten-free salad dressings."
26900 Newport Road, #12
Menifee, CA 92584
Phone: (888) 904-3180
Phone: (951) 672-8080
Open 7 Days - 11:00am to 9:00pm