A convert to Catholicism, Alexandra Greeley is a food writer, restaurant critic, and cookbook author, who is passionate about every aspect of the food world—from interviewing chefs to supporting local farmers and to making the connection between food and faith
As patrons stroll into the front terrace and the indoors dining areas of Girasole restaurant in The Plains, Virginia, what will capture their attention are the numerous colorful flowers, the polished floors and the overhead beams. And Catholics will also welcome the religious symbols tucked away in nooks and crannies: several terracotta images of the Virgin Mary and Jesus; numerous angelic figures; and over the bar, a tiny carved figurine of Padre Pio. Even above the outdoor fireplace, the restaurant owners have installed a carved stone plaque of the Holy Family.
Obviously Catholic themselves, the owners, Lydia and Louis Patierno, use the Girasole setting (girasole means “sunflower” in Italian) to reflect their faith. Both were raised in devout Catholic homes — she in a Polish-Italian household and he in an all-Italian family. “We were both raised to live life by the Ten Commandments,” Lydia said, adding that they have raised their own children that way. “As far as every day goes, you must have integrity, even as far as what you put on the plate,” she added.
Opening up Girasole almost two decades ago, the couple sought a countryish setting for their new business. “I used to come out between lunch and dinner from my Manassas restaurant for trout fishing,” said Chef Patierno. “I would drive around and see this corner building and I would think that this is where I would like to be. If I were out here, I wouldn’t need to drive around looking for a place to fish.” What they found and moved into was an empty farmhouse that needed some major renovations… plus more.
What really draws patrons to Girasole is the upscale and handcrafted Italian meals prepared by chef Louis Patierno, and presented by Lydia — both were trained at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). Chef Patierno also spent training time in Emilia-Romagna, Italy, where excellent cuisine is the norm. Because of his training and passion for cooking, he introduces new dishes regularly from the various regions of Italy. But patrons must celebrate when they can order such chef’s specials as chestnut fettuccini with porcini mushrooms or the brunch crabcake with fried green tomatoes and an herbed sauce or the dinner short ribs braised in Barolo served with creamy polenta. And the desserts are totally scrumptious.
By now, the Patiernos surely feel blessed for the success of this unique country eatery, drawing in patrons from all over the area, including several Catholic priests who are regulars. But according to Lydia, the real joy comes from how Catholicism has influenced their lives. “It has always been there for me,” she said. “I do not know what I would do without it in making right choices, in how to live life right and to deal with other people. I pray the Rosary daily, and am thankful for the gifts God has given.”
Girasole, 4244 Loudoun Ave., The Plains, Virginia. 540-253-5501. www.girasoleva.com