Steppin’ Out – Papa Gianni’s Ristorante, Cameron Park

I hadn’t realized it, but it had been years since I visited family owned, Papa Gianni’s Ristorante at 3450 Palmer Drive, Suite 1, in Cameron Park (opposite end of the shopping center from Bel Air).

This is a real, actual family run business that has been open for over 26 years specializing in traditional dishes based on recipes from Southern Italy. Each entrée is freshly prepared and made to order.

I think they were relatively new at the time I first dropped in for a meal. Everything I had then was delicious and this experience was the same, if not better.

We ended up having lunch there because Russ Salazar and I were trying to figure out a different place to visit one Tuesday. I think it was when Russ said that we hadn’t really had Italian food in some time and Papa Gianni’s came up. Fortunately, they were open on Tuesday and served lunch.

We walked in and were greeted by a lovely, smiling lady named Melissa who told us to sit anywhere we wished. It was late into lunchtime and, although there were a number of diners still finishing, we found a table set for two (cloth napkins, by the way) and in a short time Melissa reappeared, this time with menus, wine list and water.

Russ wanted to try a pasta dish and, after a discussion of several, picked simply spaghetti with meatball, served in a meat sauce. I, on the other hand, noticed they had a hot meatball and a hot sausage sandwich, both served on sourdough rolls.

For a few minutes I even thought about their cold Italian Submarine, filled with Soppressata, copocollo, mortadella, salami, pepperoni and provolone. However, I went for the sausage sandwich, made with their homemade Italian sausage and topped with marinara sauce and sautéed bell peppers (an added must for this sandwich).

Russ asked if they served milk (his restaurant test) and since they did, ordered it. I thought about a glass of wine, but stuck with water.

In a few minutes some garlic bread was brought to our table to tide us over until the food arrived. It was great and had a thick coating of Parmesan cheese. In all my years of cooking, I have never been able to make garlic bread as good as that I find at Italian restaurants.

The first item to arrive was my sausage sandwich, and it looked really good. The sausage was sliced in two and filled the sourdough roll. The first, and each succeeding bite was heavenly. It had just the right amount of everything in it. I offered Russ his half of the sandwich, but he wanted to start with the spaghetti, which arrived a minute or so later.

In the middle of the plate, on top of a large amount of well sauced al dente spaghetti, was one huge meatball. Russ cut it in two (it was still big when cut) and slid half of it, along with a helping of spaghetti and some of the very meaty sauce onto his plate. I stopped eating my sandwich and did the same.

I don’t cook a lot of spaghetti at home, usually going for angel hair or rottini if I do pasta, but this was excellent and the sauce and meatball were likewise great.

I used some of the sandwich roll to pick up the excess sauce. Russ was really into the garlic bread and did the same with it. He even got our server to bring some more so he wouldn’t run out.

Yes, Russ did get to the sausage sandwich and liked it, especially with the peppers in it, but for sure the spaghetti was his favorite. It is amazing that something so simple can be so delicious.

The lunch menu, served only Tuesday thru Friday from 11:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., includes the following pastas: Spaghetti Marinara, Spaghetti with Meatball, Fettuccini Alfredo, and Ravioli. The Al Forno (oven baked dishes) include Lasagna, Manicotti and Eggplant Parmigiana.
Hot sandwiches include the homemade Meatball and Sausage I mentioned, along with Chicken Parmigiana. For cold sandwiches you can choose from the Italian Submarine and a Caprese.

The menu ends with a Mini Cheese Pizza made with your choice from quite a list of toppings.

The dinner menu is huge and too big to print here. You can read it, and their large local and Italian wine list, on their webpage at

In addition to my previously mentioned lunch hours, for dinner they are open Tuesday through Thursday from 5 until 9, Friday and Saturday from 5 until 10 and on Sunday from 5 until 9. Last Seating: 30 minutes prior to closing. For more information call (530) 672-2333.

By the way, our lunch cost less than most of the other lunches we have recently had at fast food restaurants.

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