Mangiare Bene at Genusa’s
Article by Mary Napoli | Photography by Joli Livaudais
One family. One kitchen. One dining room. This was the Genusa’s Italian Restaurant that opened its doors in 1967. When Cherry and Francis Genusa opened their business, the Monroe natives never dreamed that they would earn a devoted and dedicated clientele that would cause them to become one of the most beloved and successful establishments in the Monroe area. Although many restaurants occupied the space in the past, the Genusa’s had something that all the others didn’t.
“We had the grit, fortitude and determination to make it a success. The others didn’t have that. You can’t run a restaurant without that grit,” says Cherry Genusa with pride in her voice. “Then again, they probably weren’t as crazy as we were. But, after all these years, we are still here.”
The Genusa’s Restaurant of today is a sizable operation with multiple dining rooms that can accommodate large dinner parties, as well as grand private occasions. This was not always the case, however. The restaurant began with a small kitchen and one dining area, the room now known as the family room, where guests pass through when they are being seated. Armed with the undeniably delicious recipes of Francis Genusa’s aunts and mother, the couple began their journey with a rocky start.
“It was a much smaller operation back then. We did everything ourselves. We cooked all the food; washed the dishes; waited tables. It was very difficult,” recalls Cherry. But the restaurant continued to grow and develop, as did the Genusa family.
“We raised three children in that kitchen. When they got too big to sit on top of the freezer, we let them play on the dining room floor. It wasn’t easy, but we were always together,” says Cherry.
Although the children grew, they never left the family business. Rachel, Ann and Francis Genusa have all been heavily involved with their parents’ business from the time they were old enough to help roll out meatballs. Rachel, who has an incredible palate for food and wine, acts as wine guru and chef by pedigree. She is not only phenomenal in the kitchen but is incredibly astute in her knowledge of fine wines and is an unofficial wine broker for many locals. Ann, who plays a large role in the kitchen and management of the restaurant, is also part owner of The Coffee Bean and divides her time between the two eateries.
Many of the dishes on Genusa’s menu have evolved along with the restaurant, such as the wild halibut with smoked gouda sauce and the rosemary-rubbed grilled filet. New items are added to the menu occasionally, and guests can look forward to trying a handmade “picolo” (small, in Italian) pizza as an appetizer, a Creole-Italian redfish entree and a Colorado-raised lamb dish. However, some dishes are as old as the restaurant itself and come from old family recipes. The spaghetti and meatballs is a tried and true favorite, and the chicken florentine comes from a recipe that has been handed down for years. It is served with their signature artichoke and fresh spinach dressing on top of a plump, juicy grilled chicken breast. The oldest recipe served is the unbelievable delicious and always popular cannelloni. For this traditional Italian entree, tubes of delicate pasta are stuffed with a mixture of Italian cheeses–two of which are hand made–and topped with the made-from-scratch marinara sauce created right in the Genusa kitchen. This flavorful dish encompasses everything that is revered about Italian cooking, from the creamy, artisan cheeses, to the sauce made from fresh, vine-picked tomatoes, to the perfectly cooked pasta. This dish is tough to beat.
“When I was a child, men and women used to try to bribe me with candy and money to give them the cannelloni recipe. People have been after that recipe all my life. There is no way we could take it off the menu,” says Rachel Genusa. People have been known to drive great distances on a regular basis to get their “cannelloni fix.”
The Genusa family understands that fresh ingredients are essential to authentic Italian cooking, and they go to great lengths to provide this to their customers. Italian sausage and raviolis are made in house, and the delectable meat balls that are served are rolled by hand in the kitchen. The Genusas also maintain vegetable and herb gardens to create their seasonings and signature flavors. They grow their own tomatoes when the season allows, as well as their own mushrooms and limes. A priest, who was a friend of the family, raised eggplants for the restaurant that the Genusa’s jokingly referred to as “holy eggplants.” Their herb garden provides the kitchen with fresh oregano, thyme, mint, basil and rosemary. The delicate basil leaves are harvested and used in a number of ways, including a variety of pestos. The rosemary is a staple for the kitchen and provides depth for some of their signature sauces and marinades.
Fresh rosemary is harvested from Rachel’s herb garden at home every two weeks. Back at the restaurant, the herb is combined with extra virgin olive oil, garlic and spices to create the family’s signature “rosemary rub.” The flavorful mixture is massaged into the premium cuts of beef and fresh fish filets that are served.
The rub is “like liquid gold!” says Rachel with a laugh. “The cuts of beef we have are phenomenal, but without the rosemary rub, they wouldn’t be nearly as delicious.”
The distinctive, complex flavor and moisture the rub provides is incomparable. Genusa’s steaks are premium quality, hand-selected beef that is farm raised in a nearby location. The cuts of beef they offer are mouthwateringly tender and remarkably flavorful.
Patrons know that authentic Italian food is best enjoyed with excellent wine, and there is no shortage of wines to choose from at the restaurant. Rachel has extensive training and knowledge to go with her naturally discerning palate. She has created a large selection of wines of all types from various regions of the world and is happy to offer advice on pairing with dishes. Some guests are more adventurous when choosing a wine to complement their meal than others, and with Rachel’s assistance, they often find new favorites even when they aren’t looking. Guests often come to Rachel for wine recommendations and she encourages them to venture out of their comfort zone. Those that do are rarely disappointed.
“People really cut themselves short by going to that old, trusty California wine,” explains Rachel. “There are so many absolutely beautiful, flavorful and complex Italian wines available. I know if people would give them a chance, they would be blown away.”
Even with the extraordinary menu and substantial list of wines available in this charming, traditional Italian restaurant, the Genusas feel that what is most important to the eatery is not what comes out of the kitchen.
“The best thing about this place is the people who come here. We have such a dedicated clientele, and they give us the incentive to make the best food possible,” says Cherry. “We couldn’t serve them anything less than the best.”
Francis Genusa agrees with his wife and feels their loyal patrons are integral to the success of the restaurant. He also appreciates the dependable staff that has remained with the Genusas for many years. The family has developed close relationships with their kitchen and waitstaff over time, and they are as meaningful as they are indispensable.
“We are very lucky to have the people that we do in the kitchen with us. Some have been here over 20 years. They are like family to us,” says Francis.
Sometimes it is difficult even for the most dedicated fans of Genusa’s to find time for a night out during the busy holiday season. The restaurant offers gift certificates, gift baskets and prepackaged sauces, olive salad, soups and stews that would make a perfect gift for any foodie. Wrap it up with a bottle of one of Genusa’s stellar wines, and you’ve got a memorable Christmas gift that will be greatly appreciated.
Genusa’s is open for lunch Tuesday through Saturday, 11am to 2pm and dinner on Monday through Thursday from 5pm to 9:30pm. On Friday and Saturday, dinner is served from 5pm to 10pm. Find them on Facebook, or call (318) 387-3083 to make reservations for a superior meal with friends and family. Holiday parties and New Year’s Eve dining are always popular at the restaurant, so make your reservations well in advance. Although Genusa’s Restaurant is a time tested favorite in the region, there is always something new for the palate to discover at their table.