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Bigger is better at Gio‘s

Al Parker - September 15th, 2008
When looking for a location for his new full-service Italian restaurant, Greg “Gio” Vereyken opted to go big – really big.
Gio, who brings some two decades of restaurant experience to his venture, opened Gio’s Trattoria Grille in a former Ace hardware store along U.S. 131 in Kalkaska. The mammoth space provides 12,000 square feet of space for dining, drinking and entertainment. There’s another 12,000 square feet of storage in the basement.
“I can’t think of anything that’s even close to this (in size),” says Gio with a smile. “Usually you’re trying to use every inch of space, but it’s such a different problem when you’re trying to fill all these square feet.”
Gio and his wife, Crystal, spent about six months of constant work installing interior walls to divide the area into a 2,000-square-foot bar area, a 4,000-square-foot main dining room and a 4,000-square-foot banquet hall. They painted the walls, redid the floors and added Romanesque decorations.
Gio’s mother, Sharon, contributed an artistic touch with murals and wall paintings that lend a distinctive Italian vibe.

Even with that vast space, size is not the only thing that Gio’s Trattoria Grille has going for it. The menu features some outstanding Italian fare, all marked by Chef Gio’s experienced hand.
He ran two pizza places in Arkansas and three in Oklahoma before moving to Northern Michigan. For about four years he was at Guiseppi’s in Charlevoix. Residents in the Acme area grew fond of the Italian fare he offered from his tiny 1,200-square foot eatery at the intersection of M-72 and U.S. 31.
When his lease expired, Gio opened a full-service Italian restaurant in Bellaire, but that eatery was destroyed by fire in June – just as he was opening Gio’s Trattoria Grille.
It was a stressful time, but the Vereykens are looking ahead optimistically. “Business has been good so far,” says Gio, whose newest eatery offers all the classics – lasagna, mostaccioli, spaghetti and meatballs, chicken and veal parmesan, pizza – plus some other extra items that you don’t find in every Italian eatery.
For example, there’s Gio’s Lasagna Meatoballo and Italian Nachos, featuring lasagna sheets that are cut into squares and fried, then blanketed with alfredo sauce, a number of toppings and baked mozzarella. “The Italian Nachos have been really popular,” says Gio. “People seem to love ‘em.”
There’s also a bread bar, featuring freshly baked goods, plus an impressive selection of dipping sauces and olive oils.
“We make all our sauces from scratch,” explains Gio as he stirs a 60-gallon batch of meat sauce that bubbles softly on the stove. “We make all our dough fresh every day for our breads and crusty garlic bread sticks.”

Pizza lovers will savor the eight different pies, including a tasty Greek that features ham, artichokes, mushrooms, tri-colored peppers, black olives, feta cheese, and Italian cheeses. Other unusual pies include a Wild Mushroom pizza that is packed with tomatoes, fresh portabella and button mushrooms, spinach, feta, a special cheese blend, and balsamic Italian dressing.
Or how about a panini, a stacked Italian grilled sandwich? Gio’s offers eight different versions.
To satisfy that sweet tooth, an array of desserts is available, including a delicious tiramisu – lady fingers soaked with brandy and espresso and layered with a creamy mascarpone filling. It’s then lightly dusted with cocoa powder. “The tiramisu has been really popular,” says Gio. “Several people have said it’s the best they ever had.”
Open only three months, the banquet hall has already hosted several weddings, business meetings, and Kiwanis and Rotary gatherings. On Fridays, it’s the scene for a live music show, complete with a buffet dinner for only $25.
Gio also conducts regular 90-minute cooking demonstrations, teaching visitors proper knife techniques and cooking lessons. He shows guests how to prepare the same foods that are on the menu. “It’s a lot of fun and people really enjoy themselves,” he says.
On Wednesdays, in the bar area, area singers are invited to take part in karaoke night fun.
On Sept. 18, the banquet hall will host a book signing by Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli who has penned a mystery, “Dead Women Dancing.” The Antrim Regional Theater will perform “The Mouse That Roared” in October.
“We’re very family-friendly,” says Crystal, a Central Lake native who has several relatives in the restaurant business. “We’re all about good food in a fun, family atmosphere.”

Gio’s Trattoria Grille is located at 2325 U.S. 31 in Kalkaska. It’s open seven days a week at 11 a.m. For information, call (231) 384-4444.

  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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