As a 20-year veteran of the restaurant industry, Patricia Gemelli is no stranger to the intoxicating rush of dinner service. Preparing dish after dish of fresh, seasonal food for more than 100 diners a night is second nature to her, so the small seating of 25 that filled Gemelli’s Gourmet Market on Oct. 4 was a relative cakewalk. Still, Patricia and her team prepared with the same care and passion that are the hallmarks of the her family’s business.
That night, the grocery store was transformed into an upscale eatery, complete with linen tablecloths and votive candles, when it hosted an evening of wining and dining patrons with the best tastes of the fall season. A five-course menu developed by the chefs at Gemelli’s was accompanied by wine pairings from the Village Wine Merchant in Sea Cliff.
“This is our fourth event, and it’s a sellout,” said Ge-melli, of West Islip. “People really enjoy coming in, tasting new wines, and also tasting our food and having an enjoyable evening.”
At the start of the night, diners filed quietly into the shop and sat at the small array of tables. By the third course, the room was loud with chatter and laughter as the wine and food flowed.
Gemelli worked with Michael Amendola, from the Village Wine Merchant, to craft the wine menu. “We’re taking flavors and profiles from the food and complementing them with specific wines,” Amendola said. “All the wines tonight are chosen from small, family producers, and this is a family place.”
The tasting, he added, allows guests to see how wine interacts with food. “It’s one thing to be in the store and to see the bottles, but here we can demonstrate them,” he said, “and it’s great for people who are skeptical with a wine. When they have it with a food pairing, a light bulb goes off.”
Before each course was served, Amendola and Gemelli shared with the diners information about the tastes they would experience.
Behind a swinging stainless steel door, Gemelli and fellow chef Jose Romero busily prepared the food in the kitchen. They were flanked by members of Gemelli’s family, who topped the steaming plates of pork, grouper and ravioli with their respective garnishes. The first course, a velvety butternut squash soup, was seasoned with flecks of cinnamon that cut through the vivid yellow liquid with an undeniable warmth. The delicate grouper was stuffed with sweet lump crab and topped with a buttery lemon sauce.
Ursel Witt, of Glen Cove, said she enjoyed the pumpkin ravioli. “It’s like a little treat,” she said. Witt, who buys her meats from Gemelli’s butcher, was attracted to the tasting because the shop brought to mind her European roots. “It reminds me of home,” she said.
Sea Cliff resident Kim Bigliotti, who works in wine distribution, attended the tasting because she is familiar with Amendola and his shop. She called the beverage pairings “perfect” and the atmosphere even better.
“[An event like this] brings people together in a positive way, and it supports small businesses,” she said.
Gemelli was born and raised in the restaurant business, and met her husband, Bob, in high school, when she worked as a cashier at his grocery store, so it’s no surprise that family is a crucial ingredient in every dish the market serves.
“As a family business, we share our love of food with our customers. It’s not just a pit stop,” she said. “You can tell how fresh everything looks, and when you taste it you realize it. That’s what we’re about.”
Read this reporter’s personal perspective on the evening on page 30.