Location makes a big difference when it comes to the success of a restaurant. Finding a place that is in the right neighborhood, is the correct size or has the right ambiance can be difficult.
Sometimes you get it right the first time, but sometimes a restaurant has to adapt, and that can necessitate a change in location.
For G.N.A. Ristorante, West Reading was the right place, but it took a move of three blocks down the street before they found the perfect location in 2006.
I can remember the old restaurant – a pizza parlor that happened to sell great pastas. The room was simple, with a handful of Formica booths and some small tables. It was simple, but always packed with people, especially those standing in line for take-out.
G.N.A.’s current location is much more elegant. The walls, with their partially exposed bricks and simple painted vines, make the building look and feel much homier.
The take-out area has been partitioned off from the dining area, which is, itself, divided into four separate seating areas. To the left is the pizzeria, with high-cushioned booths to fit six and smaller tables in the center.
In the middle is the bar, with its high-top bistro tables and flat screen TV’s. To the right a more refined dining room. Floral centerpieces sit atop table linens in the light of the large picture windows. The seating continues outside where metal bistro tables are adorned with green, white and blue umbrellas.
The full menu is offered in all of the dining areas so we opted for comfort and took our seats in the pizzeria.
Much of the menu is standard Italian restaurant fare: hot and cold sandwiches, pizza and Stromboli, and all the familiar pasta dishes like spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna and baked ziti.
But they do offer many unique items like veal-stuffed tortelloni, salmon in a champagne, tomato and basil sauce, and homemade fettuccine and tagliatelle pasta.
Looking for something a little different, myself, I went with the Gamboncello D’ Agnello, lamb shank sautéed in olive oil and Chianti wine served with beef braised ravioli.
The lamb shank cast a large shadow as it more than filled the plate, the thick bone protruding off the side. Lamb shank can be a tough cut of me, especially if not cooked properly. But this was braised perfectly, creating a very tender, very moist dish. With the addition of the subtle sauce, which featured small bits of carrots and onion, the meat took on a flavor similar to a pot roast, but with richer flavor.
On the side were four of the beef braised raviolis, which had a complex flavor from a mix of herbs and a heavier presence from the Chianti. I wish this variation of raviolis was a menu item of its own so I could get a full order of them on my next visit.
The beauty of the G.N.A menu is that while I was enjoying a true culinary experience, my wife was sitting next to me with a tuna melt.
Dating back to the days at the old restaurant, G.N.A.’s tuna melt has been one of my wife’s favorite sandwiches. She has never been able to pinpoint an exact reason, but she has yet to find a tuna sandwich that can match it, with its warm, toasted roll, melted cheese and flavorful tuna mix.
With such a wide variety on the menu, G.N.A. also offers dinners in a wide range of prices. While my lamb shank was one of the higher priced items at just over $20.00, the small tuna melt came in under $5.00.
When a restaurant finds the right mix of great food with the perfect location, you get a place like G.N.A., a place that offers whatever dining experience you are looking for with an excellent food selection to suit every taste.
Food: Very Good
Ambiance: Very Good
421 Penn Ave
West Reading, PA 19611