A pit stop in Bay St. Louis made such a big impression on two restaurant owners, they decided to adjust their plans and settle here.
Italian Garden Restaurant opened Saturday at 828 U.S. 90 in the Bay, across from Bay Arts Center, and is owned by Giovanni Karelli and his wife, Mergita Sadiku.
Karelli, originally from Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and Sadiku were en route to Florida after plans to expand the family’s Oklahoma restaurant business to Louisiana and Arkansas didn’t work out, he said. The two Oklahoma restaurants are named Luigi’s.
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“My father-in-law and I had taken a trip to Arkansas and Louisiana, but we couldn’t find a place that was just right,” he said. “We were on our way to Florida and stopped here (in Bay St. Louis) and spent the night.”
After looking around the town, they knew they had found the right place, he said.
Karelli’s father is from Palermo, Italy. Recipes that Karelli uses at Italian Garden are ones that originated with his uncle Giovanni, “the original Giovanni. I was named for him. He died before I was born. He had a small Italian restaurant in Little Italy in New York.”
The menu includes appetizers, salads, baked pasta, pizza (including white pizza), chicken or veal and seafood, as well as house specialties and lunch specials. The lunch specials, at $7.95 each, include spinach ravioli, eggplant parmigiano, eggplant rollitini and manicotti. House specialties include the Italian Garden Special ($13.95), chicken and sausage with bell peppers, ham and black olives in a white cream sauce “with a touch of marinara” over spaghetti; Tour of Italy ($14.95), fettuccini Alfredo, chicken parmigiana and lasagna; and pasta primavera. There’s also a children’s menu.
Karelli makes all of the restaurant’s sauces, pasta and pizza dough as well as the desserts, which include tiramisu, Italian cream cake, cannoli and a Limoncello dessert.
So far, the most popular dishes are Linguini Tuttomare ($15.95), which includes mussels, shrimp, calimari and baby clams sauteed in white wine and served over linguini; Tour of Italy; Chicken Parmigiana ($11.95), Veal Marmigiana ($14.95) and lasagna.
“The lasagna takes a long, long time,” he said, laughing. “I make my meat sauce, too.”
The owners are working on obtaining a liquor license for the restaurant; they plan to serve beer and wine. Karelli said the city has nixed a BYOB option.
Hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays.
The phone number is 228-467-4643.