Review: Gaberino's serves food straight from the heart 

click to enlarge Italian cream cake with French press coffee at Gaberino’s Homestyle Italian in Norman. (Mark Hancock)
  • Mark Hancock
  • Italian cream cake with French press coffee at Gaberino’s Homestyle Italian in Norman.

Some of the best Italian food in the world is made in homes by family members.

That’s the inspiration for putting homestyle in Gaberino’s Homestyle Italian restaurant’s atmosphere, service and cuisine. Laura and Mitch Duprez opened the place on Norman’s bustling northwest side a few years back. They’d previously both mastered noodle wrangling at Victoria’s Pasta Shop on Campus Corner.

Gaberino’s has successfully settled into a neighborhood that includes a branch public library, lodging and much of the town’s retail commerce.

The interior is reminiscent of other red sauce joints but with classy personal flair. Arty sepia-tone framed photos look down on red-and-white checkered tablecloths.

Our server Megan was an Oberlin College junior home for summer break. She immediately endorsed dessert first. Although the menu isn’t written back to front, order Italian cream cake ($5) first. If you wait until later to decide, dawdling over your meal and being coy about whether you’re going to have any at all, it will sell out before you get to it. Secure that piece of cake. Do it now.

It’s a conscience-destroying cake. Spousal sleight of hand was suspected; she switched the bigger piece to her plate.

It’s not typical Italian cream cake. Baked in-house, the darker-than-usual delight is dense and incorporates nuts. The generous layer of icing is not too sweet but is still rich.

Check out the special summer menu with lighter, seasonal fare that includes an out-of-the park home run chicken piccata ($14). Breaded white meat is baked with garlic lemon butter, white wine, capers, mushrooms and artichokes. It’s served over handmade linguine that deserves the same torrid love letter the cake received.

Mamma mia, the pasta’s texture and flavor generally rivals any in memory. It’s substantial and conjures up a vision of someone’s Italian grandma rolling out dough on a floured board. A similarly wonderful handmade spaghetti waited under the fine shrimp scampi ($12.50). Shrimp is frequently overcooked to rubbery pink bait in these parts, but not in this dish. The little crustaceans were juicy and flavored with fresh garlic.

Hot, crusty baked bread comes with each entree. There’s a wine and beer list, too. The year-round Gaberino’s menu is also served in the summer and includes signature chicken lasagna Florentine ($12), fettuccine with meatballs ($12), several antipasti plates, pizza, sandwiches and more. Megan recommended the “create your own pasta” option.

Use your imagination to create a pasta dish from the ingredients list. Perhaps broccoli and pink sauce or capers and carrots in pesto cream.

Does five bucks sound high-dollar for a slice of cake? No? Get the Italian cream.

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Doug Hill

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