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Both roads lead to the dinner table

Joe’s Pasta House proprietor Joe Guzzardi, left, talks about sauce cooking in the pots in front of him, while head chef Rick Koenig looks on. Koenig has worked for the Guzzardis since their restaurant opened 14 years ago. (Observer—ARGEN DUNCAN photo)

Joe’s Pasta House proprietor Joe Guzzardi, left, talks about sauce cooking in the pots in front of him, while head chef Rick Koenig looks on. Koenig has worked for the Guzzardis since their restaurant opened 14 years ago. (Observer—ARGEN DUNCAN photo)

After critiquing more than 1,000 restaurants over the last decade and a half, Rio Ranchoan Gil Garduño still wishes he could drop by Joe’s Pasta House more often.

Garduño runs “Gil’s Thrilling (and Filling) Blog,” in which he tells of his experiences eating at a wide variety of restaurants around Rio Rancho, Albuquerque, Santa Fe and other spots on the map. By day, he works as a software project manager at Intel Corp.

Joe’s Pasta House is a popular 14-year-old establishment in a renovated IHOP building on Southern Boulevard just east of Sara Road. Proprietors Joe and Kassie Guzzardi have Italian backgrounds, and go the extra mile to find non-genetically modified wheat pasta and organic olive oil for their restaurant.

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Backgrounds

“I grew up in a bakery,” Joe, a native New York resident, said.

His father owned bakeries, and the family cooked every day.

Joe’s start in the restaurant business was as a dishwasher, while Kassie began as a server at age 18 in Toledo, Ohio.

Garduño grew up in Peñasco, a northern New Mexico town of several hundred people, eating the traditional beans and tortillas. He said he’d never had Chinese or Italian food until he joined the military when he was 18 and was stationed in a big city. He loved the new tastes he was trying.

When Garduño and his wife, Kim, returned to New Mexico after he retired from the military in 1995, they began getting reacquainted with once-familiar restaurants and trying new ones, according to his blog. Garduño, who describes himself as meticulous, compiled a spreadsheet of their experiences at those eateries and his thoughts.

The spreadsheet turned into a rudimentary website, which turned into his blog, which garnered attention from numerous individuals as well as organizations of culinary acclaim such as Food Network and Gourmet magazine.

Critical philosophy

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Garduño claims no professional training in cuisine, but rather experience eating at many restaurants.

“I’m an ordinary guy who likes to eat good food at reasonable prices and expects to be treated relatively well while doing so,” he writes to readers of his blog.

He maintains the blog so he can use his own passion for food to help other people looking for a place to eat.

Garduño doesn’t post reviews of restaurants he doesn’t like. He doesn’t want to be responsible for an establishment going out of business, and his opinion isn’t better than anyone else’s, he said.

He doesn’t mind letting readers know he doesn’t have anything nice to say about chain restaurants, however.

Garduño says the annual visit Kim insists upon making to Olive Garden is torture, but he has only praise for Joe’s Pasta House.

“Joe’s is an old-fashioned ‘red sauce’ restaurant, the type of which have survived the onslaught of their supposedly more sophisticated brethren, the vaunted Northern Italian restaurants;  the type of which remain so popular throughout the East Coast,” Garduño writes. “…Pasta House proprietor Joe Guzzardi is a peripatetic presence with a buoyant personality and charm to spare.”

Hard work, good food

Joe puts in 12-hour days six days a week at the restaurant, while Kassie works primarily behind the scenes from home.

“We like to, from the Italian culture, tap into the Sunday kitchen, where the pot’s always on and everyone’s welcome,” Kassie said.

He and the kitchen staff arrive about three hours before the pasta house opens at 11 a.m. to bake bread, make the all-important sauces and pound meat.

Suppliers bring fresh ingredients four times a week.

Chefs make their own cannoli and tiramisu, and even though the pasta cooks on a timer, they taste it to make sure it’s al dente. Kassie insists chefs don’t add sugar to the tomato-based sauce; instead she and Joe import sweet, specially selected tomatoes from Italy.

Kassie is health-conscious, buying organic ingredients, hormone- and antibiotic-free meat and pasta made from Italian wheat that has less gluten and isn’t genetically modified. Sauces cook in stainless steel pots, because of concerns that aluminum may contribute to Alzheimer’s disease.

The oil from fryers is non-hydrogenated and changed every day — and the environmentally conscious Gizzardis give it to people who use it as fuel in their converted cars.

Joe’s Pasta House also buys local, at least from the four-state region around New Mexico, whenever possible. The Guzzardis insist on grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, humanely raised veal and sustainably caught fish.

“We really try to research everything that comes in here, because we wouldn’t want to feed you anything we wouldn’t feed our own family,” Kassie said.

Recognition

New guests have visited since Joe’s Pasta House received the Best in the City award for Italian restaurants from Albuquerque the Magazine. The Guzzardis say the honor is humbling.

“It’s the staff that does it,” Joe said.

Joe and Kassie count their employees as family, and many, including their top chef, Rick Koenig, have worked for them since the restaurant opened.

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