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Italian immigrant serves area with dining destination

Written by Mike Siroky. Posted in Uncategorized

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Published on March 08, 2011 with No Comments

by Mike Siroky

Gamba Ristorante in Merrillville is not your every day dining experience. But neither is it an overly fancy place.And, in the end it is your father’s restaurant.

Especially if your father is Benito Gamba.

An immigrant from Altomonte, Italy, he landed in Chicago and in the restaurant trade in Chicago. He learned a little here, a little there and soon had enough in his mental Rolodex to step out on his own.

For the past 29 years, he has been stepping into the Region with Gamba’s at the end of a long parade of success.

And, yes, when he visits his homeland he does come back every time with new dining delights.

“He used to own Café Venezia on U.S. 30 then he opened Venezia’s Bar & Grill on U.S. 30,” said his oldest daughter, Michaelle.

Just last week, the family celebrated five years of Gamba Ristorante. It has become the expectation destination for the family as well as their regular customers.

Another part of Benito Gamba’s celebration of life is the special events he hosts.

A fundraiser (also last week) was “Made In The Region,” which celebrated local poets, singers, dancers, inspirational speakers and soul music. Proceeds benefited the SouthShore Arts EveryKids Program.

Michaelle Gamba said the dress is usually business casual, as many customers come to dine after work or for those special occasions. Indeed, most nights it seems there is a family party at every table.

And Benito Gamba is likely to be there, table-hopping, checking for automatic customer reviews, just enjoying the scene which he has created.

It is his way of paying off for the joyous payoff his life has become.

Michaelle Gamba is the manager, but her sisters Angela and Crsytal work there as well. The family matriarch, Hilda, is the ultimate boss, of course.

The head chef, Simon Floyd, has been with the restaurant so long he is family, according to Michaelle Gamba. She then confessed just about everyone becomes family once they discover the place.

“We don’t want anyone to feel out of place,” she said.

That is why she and Crystal Gamba enjoy the work in the family business so much. It is not that they work there because they have to, it is because they want to.

“Baby sister” Angela is away at Indiana University just now, but she is quick to join in when home for weekends or school breaks. Michaelle Gamba has a 15-year-old daughter, Cynthia, “And she can’t wait until she can work here,” Michaelle Gamba said.

“I grew up in the restaurants. It seems more like home than where I live,” she said.

They extend the family atmosphere to customers. They will go off-menu if they can.

“Someone might ask for something we don’t have and we’ll try to make it if we have the ingredients,” Michaelle Gamba said.

But what they do have satisfies most everyone. Of course, the main menus are Italian, but they have steaks and fresh fish as well.

The fish comes in daily from the Chicago market, as Benito Gamba uses his legendary connections to get the best for his customers. Michaelle Gamba said she most enjoys the filet and whatever fish has just come in.

Wine is another house specialty (with up to 1,000 bottles onsite), as are the microbrews. One of those comes from the microbrewery run by the chef, Three Floyds Brewery in Munster.

And they mix specialty drinks. Michaelle Gamba prefers the Mango Martini.

Their banquet area, which opens onto a courtyard, can seat 200.

“We have gluten-free items and vegetarian dishes,” Michaelle Gamba said. “No one goes hungry. We try to make everyone happy.”

She said she learned the trade from her father, picking up his tips as they went along.

Come in and at least one family member will greet you.

“I’d have to say the best description is we’re family-oriented because everyone is going to become a family member,” Michaelle Gamba said.

“If not me, then my mom or sisters or my dad. Everyone loves it when he is around and he’s around all the time.”

“We love it so much, Crystal and I. You come in and relax. It’s authentic,” she added.

You can visit Gamba Ristorante at 455 R. 84th Drive in Merrilville. For more information, call them at 219-736-5000, meet them online at www.gambaristorante.com or find them on Facebook.

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About Mike Siroky

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All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed in the above excellent column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Chronicle. Mike Siroky is a writer and editor. He is a native of Northwest Indiana. He has worked in media from coast to coast. To contact Mike, email mikel@the chronicleNWI.com

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