WHAT’S FOR LUNCH? ‘ALL IN’ IN SEA BRIGHT

Shrimp, arugula and capellini pasta at the newly opened GiGi’s New York Style Pizza and Restaurant. (Photo by Susan Ericson. Click to enlarge)

By SUSAN ERICSON

Admiring the new street lights installed as part of a streetscape makeover on Ocean Avenue in Sea Bright earlier this week, PieHole spied the equally new GiGi’s New York Style Pizza and Restaurant.

Located next door to Melonhead in a space that most recently housed the Black Swine restaurant, which moved to a larger spot a block away, Gigi’s turns out to be owned by familiar faces: chef Kenny Gambella and his wife, Kelly, who also own Sonny’s Sandwich Shop just down the street.

Indoor and outdoor seating is available at GiGi’s. A deep-fried calzone, below. (Photos by Susan Ericson. Click to enlarge)

“We saw this spot come up a few months ago, and we went for it,” said Kelly. Then, just as they named Sonny’s after their son, Santino, the couple christened this venture with the nickname for their daughter, Grace.

With two kids and two businesses under two years of age, and a recent move of the family to town, the Gambellas aren’t kidding when they say they’re “all in” for Sea Bright.

At GiGi’s, the Gambellas have opened a wall dividing the front dining room from the back kitchen in the formerly dark, cavelike interior, creating a lighter, brighter and more inviting dining space with seating for 32 customers. Outdoor tables can accommodate another 24.

Unique gourmet ingredient combinations fill the menu. For example, arugula, caramelized onions, fresh fig, goat cheese and fresh mozzarella on a thin crust make up a pizza called the “Money” pie ($19). Another unusual offering is the upside-down Sicilian pie ($18), a thicker crust glossed with San Marzano tomatoes, pecorino romano cheese and extra virgin olive oil. The menu also includes classics such as a Margherita ($16) and a Grandma pie ($18).

Don’t miss the indulgent options among the appetizers. Mini rice balls (four for $10) filled with meat and cheese, and mini calzones (three for $10) are worth the calories. The mini calzones are filled with ricotta cheese, deep-fried and dusted with parmesan. Crisp and sized to dip in the accompanying marinara sauce, this method of preparation alleviates the dreaded soggy bottom and center of most bigger, baked calzones.

At the chef’s suggestion, we try a pasta dish, GiGi’s Capellini. Baby arugula leaves, lightly roasted fresh tomatoes and plump shrimp crown a bowl of capellini pasta dressed in oil and garlic. Following his own rules, Gambella tops the dish with plenty of parmesan cheese.

The result is fresh, filling and yet surprisingly light: we’re tempted to call it a pasta salad. As we stir the ingredients around a fork, flavors melt together in a cheesy-garlicky heap. It is one of the tastiest dishes we’ve tried in a long time. We’re planning to return to GiGi’s with a bottle of chilled white wine to enjoy this one for dinner, preferably at an outdoor table with the sound of waves crashing in the background.

Gigi’s Pizza and Restaurant, at 1142 Ocean Avenue, is currently open from 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., with plans for longer hours during the summer. 

SUSAN-ERICSON

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