Filomena: Abundance, Togetherness and Celebration

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JoAnna Filomena in her younger days. Courtesy Filomena.

On May 23, Filomena Ristorante could be said to have turned 35 years old. According to owner JoAnna Filomena, however, that’s not the true age of her landmark Georgetown restaurant, since its construction took a little over two and a half years.

“I’m already past that,” she says.

But that doesn’t mean she isn’t looking back to where she started. Not only was Filomena Ristorante well-received and successful, but the restaurant, at 1063 Wisconsin Ave. NW, is known nationwide and abroad. “I really couldn’t ask for much more,” says Filomena, 83.

What can be expected on a visit to the restaurant? It is the kind of place where one feels a sense of abundance, of family togetherness and of celebration of what life has to offer. Speaking of her patrons, Filomena says, “I want them to feel special.”

She goes more than the extra mile to generate these warm, fuzzy feelings. When Filomena had the idea to open her restaurant, she wanted to fill a gap in Washington, D.C., dining, creating a place where people could come in, relax and not be in a rush to leave.

Originally from Ohio, she was inspired by the Italian food scene in New York City,especially Brooklyn. “I surrounded myself with it,” she says, including immersing herself in the range of imported cheeses that she came into contact with there. Her time in New York also inspired her to open a restaurant with charisma, which she found lacking in Washington restaurants in those days.

In addition to having specific goals for the atmosphere, Filomena wanted to have as much control as possible over the quality of the ingredients, making bread crumbs from scratch and determining the right levels of salt and cheese, for instance.

There is also a focus on labor-intensive dishes, such as seafood cannelloni, made to order. “We’re very old-fashioned,” she says.

As it stands, the menu contains so many beloved favorites that Filomena only hasroom for new dishes in the specials section. “I don’t want to disappoint,” she says.That being said, her penchant for Italian cuisine continues to result in new offerings,since, in her words, “Italian dishes are so endless.”

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