BY CHARIS PRUNTY The Brookings Register
BROOKINGS An Italian restaurant authentic or otherwise has been noticeably lacking in Brookings. Even from their Watertown restaurant, brothers Flori, Armand and Jim Verseli and their cousin and co-owner, Tony Avdiu, noticed it.
The group opened Italian Garden in Watertown two years ago. On May 30, they opened a restaurant under the same name in Brookings.
"Originally, we wanted to be in Fargo, N.D. From Iowa, we originally picked Fargo," Flori said, explaining they had been working for an uncle in Mason City, Iowa, at a restaurant also called Italian Garden. "But, on the way up there, we stopped in Watertown for a cup of coffee or whatever, and we really liked the place."
Owners of Brookings' new Italian restaurant, Italian Garden, are seen inside their restaurant this week. Tony Avdiu, left, is a cousin to brothers Flori Verseli, center, and Armand Verseli. They and a third brother, Jim Verseli, own Italian Garden restaurants in both Brookings and Watertown.
Italian Garden is located at 1300 Main Ave. S, which was most recently Taste of Europe. The restaurant serves lunch and supper and is open 7 days a week, from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
The owners are young, in their mid- to late-20s, and speak with distinct accents. Their father is Albanian and they grew up there, Flori said. However, their recipes come from Italy, a neighbor to Albania across the Strait of Otranto. "My mom, she's from southern Italy Calabria," Flori said. "But we grew up in Albania and, when we came to the United States, we worked for our uncles in Fort Worth, Texas. They have Milanos Italian Restaurant."
Italian Garden is not Olive Garden, said the owners and restaurant manager Rebecca Lien. The food they serve is authentic Italian, they said. The owners do the cooking: Flori and Jim will mainly work at the Watertown location while Tony and Armand concentrate on Brookings. The fact that Italian Garden is family-owned and operated is clear to customers, they added.
"I would say it's more of a hometown feel, rather than such a corporate," Lien said. "It's a family feel when you walk in."
Also, they have more menu options than Olive Garden, Flori said. And entrees are freshly made when ordered. "We cook everything from scratch. We make everything order-by-order," Armand. "Nothing is sitting back there. The bread is freshly cooked every 30 minutes. We make it every day, fresh."
Diners receive bread with dipping oil, and salad, with their entrees. "We have a full Italian menu, starting from baked pastas, spaghetti, we have chicken dishes, veal, seafood and beef," Flori said. "And then pizza, also."
Entrees include a variety of salads, pizzas, calzones and strombolis, and baked pastas like cannelloni and spinach lasagna. Veal maximo, chicken Florentine, hot shrimp fra Diablo and penne pomodore are just a sampling of the menu, which also includes desserts like tiramisu and cannoli. The menu also includes pricing for kids and seniors.
The lunch menu is smaller and includes entrees that can be served quickly, Lien said. Italian Garden also does catering, for which customers can pick dishes from the regular menu. The Watertown restaurant already catered a meal to the Brookings Area Chamber of Commerce for 200 people in March.
A menu from the Watertown location is available on their website, www.ItalianGardenSD.com. The Brookings menu is mostly the same, with a few changes, Lien said. Contact the restaurant at 691-0866. contact Charis Prunty at firstname.lastname@example.org.