Lil’ Gerardo’s: Homemade goodness

BELLAIRE – Lori Vinka was in the midst of a career as a social worker when the economic downturn hit too close to home. After 20 years on the job, Vinka was laid off and out of work.

A chance to move in a new direction finally presented itself after nearly a year of searching when Vinka caught wind that the Zontini’s in Bellaire planned to close up shop.

Now, Vinka plans to share her other passion, one she’s honed through the year providing nightly home-cooked meals to her family.

Lil’ Gerardo’s, offering fresh baked Italian-style foods, will open Wednesday at 3 p.m. at the site of the former Zontini’s Pizza on Belmont Street.

The doors open at 3 p.m.

The menu will consist of: pepperoni rolls, meatball and sausage hoagies and three-cheese calzones. Starting July 17, every Tuesday Lil Gerardo’s will offer homemade spaghetti and meatballs.

Every Wednesday starting July 25, homemade Lasagna will be on the menu.

The hours will be from 3-9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Vinka noted that likely after Labor Day, the shop will open for lunch on Tuesday through Friday.

Aside from the sausage, everything served at Lil Gerardo’s will be homemade, from the meatballs, bread and even the sauce.

But the marquee menu items appears to be the pepperoni rolls.

Older residents of Bellaire and the surrounding area still remember the pepperoni rolls her father, Jerry Ciofani, made famous at his pizza shop where the Rite Aid currently stands in town.

“He was either the first or one of the first shops in the valley to offer pepperoni rolls,” Vinka said. “To this day, people ask my about them and when they might be able to get some.”

That day is Wednesday as Vinka is utilizing the same recipe.

A slight twist, Vinka will be offering deep-fried pepperoni rolls and meatball hoagies along with the baked variety. She will also offer what she considers “old-school” style pepperoni rolls. For those, after baking, the rolls are cut open and the cheese and sauce is added afterward.

The deep-fried rolls offer that extra crunch of texture and flavor, blending provolone and mozzarella with the pepperoni.

The calzones will consist of three cheeses: provolone, mozzarella and parmesan choice, plus your choice of meat.

Currently, Vinka said Lil’ Gerardo’s won’t be offering any type of salad, or pizza. But as patrons’ demands and needs changed, the menu could be expanded.

For more information, call Lil’ Gerardo’s at (740) 671-9550. Visit the shop on Facebook and Twitter for additional info and to catch wind of any daily specials being offered.

Hughes may be reached at