For three decades, Vino’s Ristorante in Cedar Rapids has been a fixture on the local restaurant scene.

And Matt Gorman, executive chef and general manager, is in fact about the same age as the restaurant itself. But he doesn’t take his role in maintaining the restaurant’s integrity lightly.

Having worked at Vino’s for just over six years, Gorman said he hasn’t changed much on the Vino’s menu, which is known for delectable Italian dishes.

“We offer classic Italian food with a modern twist,” said Gorman. “All those favorite dishes — chicken parmesan, lasagna, our spaghetti and meatballs — are always going to be on our menu. Our pastas are our most popular menu items by far,” he said, noting that they also offer gluten-free options.

But their seafood dishes are not to be overlooked, Gorman added. “To branch out I create weekly specials, usually up to two appetizers and a few entrees based on the fresh fish we get each week. I think they are some of the best seafood options you can get in the area.”

Gorman’s favorite dish is the seared rare ahi tuna with a black peppercorn crust on a bed of orzo mac and cheese with wild berry emulsion and bacon wrapped asparagus.

“That’s one of my favorites because we get really fresh tuna, and I like the interplay of texture and temperature,” he said. “I like how the cooked crust plays with the raw tuna on the inside.  

“But if you are in the mood for pasta or chicken that is just fine. We also have very good steaks as well. You don’t really think of steaks at Italian restaurants, but we have a very diverse menu that is centered on Italian dishes but includes other upscale and unique options you don’t often see other places.”

Gorman noted that their homemade desserts are always popular as well.

“We do a classic Italian tiramisu and key lime pie,” he said. “And we have plenty of regular customers who want to make sure they get their specific dessert.”

Of course the atmosphere is a draw for some diners as well.

“This is a very unique atmosphere,” Gorman said. “We have our lounge area (R.G. Books) that looks kind of like a bookstore. With its old school décor, it’s like a throw back to the 70s era.”

While you can enjoy dinner in the lounge, Gorman said it is a great place to relax and have a few drinks, something from their extensive wine list or a specialty cocktail.

On dining room side of the restaurant, customers can enjoy a more formal and cozy experience.

“We are a smaller space, but we make it all work in the space we have,” said Gorman, who noted he enjoys getting out of the kitchen to greet customers.

“We are a spot for people to celebrate special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries and Christmas parties,” he said. “But please call in advance as some dates will start to fill up.”

Gorman said he so enjoys and appreciates their regular customers and the new faces he sees at Vino’s.

“We have a fantastic clientele, both amazing regulars who are very loyal and great to be around and new faces that are fun to see,” he said. “I love, as much as I can, coming out to chat with customers and making everyone feel at home. Our wait staff does a great job of that too but I like to come out and see the fruits of my labors. There’s nothing more fulfilling to me than to see someone eat my food and enjoy it.”

“Vino’s is a family owned restaurant,” he added. “In Cedar Rapids, there are a lot of chain restaurants but there are a lot of really great local places, and we just appreciate having people come out and support us.”

TOP ITALIAN

WINNER: Vino’s Ristorante and R.G. Books
LOCATION: 3611 1st Ave. NE, Cedar Rapids
CONTACT: (319) 363-7550; http://vinosristorante.com/
RUNNERS-UP: Napoli’s Italian Restaurant, 500 Marion Blvd., Marion, (319) 377-2100, napolismarion.net; Popoli Ristorante & Sullivan’s Bar, 101 Third Ave. SW, Cedar Rapids, (319) 363-1248, popolicr.com
ONLINE: To view the Top Shelf magazine, go to Hooplanow.com/topshelf
PICK IT UP: Top Shelf is available at Hy-Vee, Casey’s and Fareway stores in the Corridor.