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Planting Roots

For Close to a Quarter-century Girasole Cucina Italiana has Been Treating Customers as One of the Russo Family

On March 15, when restaurants had to shut down due to the pandemic, the phone at Girasole Cucina Italiana in Bound Brook started ringing off the hook. “I must have gotten about 15 to 20 calls that day asking if we were open for takeout,” says owner Rob Russo. “We had not been thinking about doing takeout, but customers were saying, ‘Please stay open. We will support you.’ I was overwhelmed.”

Girasole remained open for takeout on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays for four months, and at noon each day, the phone started ringing with customers calling for their nightly order. “I was blown away by their loyalty,” Rob says. “When we opened up the patio in July, the customers came and sat under the tent even though it was incredibly hot and very uncomfortable. When I say I have the best customer base I mean that. I am blessed.”  

Such customer loyalty comes from decades of Russo hospitality, where for the past 24 years patrons have been treated as if they were guests in their home — just as Rob’s father, Alfonso, approached customers in his restaurant in Italy. Alfonso’s dream was destroyed in 1980 when the 6.9-magnitude Irpinia-Basilicata earthquake devastated their area of Southern Italy. Alfonso moved his family to New Jersey, where they had relatives. Rob was 12. The stay was meant to be temporary, but seeing new opportunities, they decided to remain.  

Alfonso started cooking in some of the area’s finest restaurants. All the while, Rob grew up, watching his father and yearning to join him. In 1996, they decided to go into business together and opened a restaurant on West Union Avenue. Rob proposed the name “Girasole” (“sunflower” in Italian). “I love sunflowers, and it occurred to me I could use the colors — yellows, browns and greens — as the restaurant color scheme,” he says. “We knew the name was hard to pronounce, but that’s part of the fun: We can teach customers the proper way to say it, and they get a kick out of it.” (Want to know how to properly say the name? Visit Rob!)

Their concept: simple, but delicious Italian dishes with the best ingredients that are made-to-order. They buy the best meat and purchase the freshest catches from the fishmonger, such as swordfish, red snapper, tuna, monkfish, and lobster tails. 

Although Alfonso passed away in 2018, his influence lives on. “It was a privilege to work with my father,” Rob says. “Every day I learned something — up to the last day. He always reminded me of the importance of hospitality and buying the best ingredients. I do what I truly love. There’s nothing that I want to do more than come to this building every day and serve my customers.”

Experience the deliciousness that is Girasole yourself. Visit girasoleboundbrook.com.

SALMONE ALLA GRIGLIA

Ingredients:
2 - 6 oz Salmon fillets
1 cup cleaned spinach
½ cup dry white wine
½ stick unsalted butter(cubed)
1 clove minced garlic
¼ cream
20 capers
4 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

Olive oil

1. Season Salmon filets with olive oil, salt and pepper. Grill or pan sear
fillets - 3 minutes each side.
2. In a separate pan, saute spinach with 2 pats of butter and a pinch of
garlic. Set aside.
3. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the lemon juice,
white wine, and garlic to a boil for 3 minutes until it reduces
and thickens. Add cream and continue to boil for one more minute. Reduce the heat to low, add butter in pieces, whisking as you go, allowing for butter to dissolve. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Position spinach in center of plate, place salmon on top of the spinach, and immediately trim the plate in a circular motion with the sauce and garnish with capers.

GAMBERI CAPRESE

Ingredients:
6 large shrimp
1 cup arugula (washed)
2 slices fresh mozzarella (cubed)
8 cherry tomatoes (cut in half)
2 tbsp lemon juice
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 clove fresh garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Season the shrimp with fresh garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil. Grill and
set aside. Note: if you cannot grill, you can pan-sear the shrimp.
2. In a large bowl, combine arugula, cubed mozzarella and cherry
tomatoes. Add salt and pepper to taste and mix with remaining olive oil and
lemon juice.
3. Evenly distribute the arugula mixture into the center of each
plate. Garnish each salad with 3 grilled shrimp and enjoy!

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