New Gallo's Pit BBQ in Linworth makes three successful restaurant concepts for owner Tommy Gallo

New Gallo's Pit BBQ in Linworth makes three successful restaurant concepts for owner Tommy Gallo

"Gallo" means "rooster" in Italian, and that brash bird symbolizes two things for Tommy Gallo: family pride and hard work.

Knowing that his father O.P. Gallo (of the famous Downtown clothing store) labored his entire life to establish the Gallo name, Tommy grinds away daily to preserve its reputation, obsessing over details that extend from sending bold flavors to diners to ensuring that the rooster logo for Gallo's Kitchen exactly matched the ones sewn into the linings of suit jackets sold in his dad's shop.

So when Tommy Gallo got a call from the Hoggy's barbecue people last year with an offer for the Gallo's Food Group to take over the original Hoggy's store, he knew what he had to do: Lean his nose deeper into the grindstone.

Already juggling two distinct and busy restaurants, now he'd need to help create a BBQ place while also managing to keep the Tap Room (arguably the coolest sports pub in town) and Gallo's Kitchen (a terrific Italian/ Creole eatery) chugging along.

Good thing Gallo wasn't used to a bunch of cushy down time. Or, as he put it, "Anything less than an 80- hour work week and I don't feel comfortable. I've been told working that much can make a man crazy--but I was crazy long before the restaurant game."

In between gulps of red wine, the chef who watches professional wrestling and once thought he'd become a cop bobs and weaves like a boxer when he talks. In fact with his shaved head and earrings, tough guy facial scruff and badass tats, he looks like he'd be equally at home prowling a boxing ring wearing padded gloves and shiny shorts as he is in his chef's whites and long apron.

Growing up in a proud Italian-American household in Upper Arlington where "life centered around food and Sunday dinner was a staple," Gallo's stylish homecooking/ haberdasher dad and baker grandfather (of Giantonio's Bakery, which preceded Mozart's in Clintonville) were highly influential. Still, Tommy Gallo never imagined he'd ever become a cooking professional.

During college, though (where he majored in criminal justice), Gallo befriended a protege of New Orleans masters Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse. Surprising himself, Gallo took up the toque and apprenticed under this Big Easy influence. But there was one missing ingredient: family. This was added when brother Nick called one day--while on his honeymoon-- informing Tommy that "I've got a bar!" Knowing he'd be needed for the kitchen, Tommy Gallo, whose sense of duty is Marine-like, who has a tattoo on the back of his neck reading "Guided by honor/Protected by angels," answered "I'm in." Thus in 2004, both the Gallo's Group (Tommy, Nick and a couple of cousins) and Gallo's Tap Room were born.

Serving up a nightclubby atmosphere, an impressive selection of beers and food that goes above and beyond its genre, the Tap Room was an immediate success.

Gallo, who worked "all day, every day," thrived on the wild, addictive energy and chaos that would sometimes break out around midnight in a rockin' bar full of sports-mad, hungry people.

He was looking to replicate this success with another Tap Room, but when a suitable second space became available, Gallo wasn't getting the same vibe. So he decided to venture more upscale and concentrate on cheffier rotating specials popular at the Tap Room, many of which he'd developed during his apprenticing days.

This translated into Gallo's Kitchen and dishes such as steak with a game-changing homemade Worcestershire sauce and a wonderful cioppino- like Seafood Creole.

Tap Room specials--in this case brother Nick's aromatic and crisply "barked" ribs--once again were the basis for expansion when Gallo's Pit BBQ opened in May. Another beer-friendly Gallo's restaurant (about 80 are available), the sporty and patio-equipped GBQ quickly became a favorite neighborhood hangout.

So what's next for the veritable macho chef with a heart of gold who calls his staff "my kids" and says his "crowning achievement" is not laying anyone off during the downturned economy? Though Gallo only hinted at his next project ("When we're ready, you'll see the best of the three restaurants come together"), I know one thing you can count on: it's guaranteed to do a rooster proud.

Photos by Tessa Berg