Amore e Amore combines traditional Italian cuisine with a festive vibe

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Inman Park restaurant’s loyal clientele helped keep it afloat during trying times.

One day in April 2021, diners showed up at Il Localino in Inman Park prepared to dive in to platters of lamb osso buco and shrimp scampi but were shocked to discover the restaurant closed after 20 years of business.

The closure, due to the unexpected death of a business partner, was sudden and devastating for both the staff and longtime clientele.

“The Earth shook under our feet,” says Gale Parker, who started the restaurant with her husband, Giovanni Ferro, in 2000.

From the moment it closed, the restaurant was inundated by Instagram posts and handwritten letters from patrons expressing dismay.

Concerned for the well-being of his coworkers, Jose Auger, who worked part-time at the restaurant to supplement his full-time job, started a GoFundMe. It raised $16,000 in a matter of days.

“We’re a tight, close group there, so when we closed, I knew people were going to be unemployed,” says Auger. “I was trying to make sure that the people who didn’t have another source of income got paid.”

A month later, after great personal financial sacrifice, Ferro and Parker reopened the restaurant with a new name — Amore e Amore (translation: love and love) — and both staff and clientele expelled a big sigh of relief.

Credit: Lizzie McIntosh Simpson

Credit: Lizzie McIntosh Simpson

“The reopening has been breathtaking,” says Parker. “It’s a daily conscious acknowledgment that it’s a labor of love.”

Amore e Amore is somewhat irreverent by white tablecloth norms. Lanterns speckle the ceiling, disco music provides the evening’s soundtrack and guests leave wearing plastic party hats. For traditionalists who are attracted by the fine dining service and classic Italian dishes like cioppino, seafood Fra Diavolo and chicken piccata, the embellishments can be a shock. But for many customers, it’s why they come back.

Adding to the festive vibe, the restaurant adopts different themes. This spring it’s “The Wizard of Oz.” In addition to a special Over the Rainbow prix fixe menu, every inch of the restaurant is decorated in character, from ruby slippers tucked on shelves to a stuffed lion peering from behind a booth.

“We’ve always known that it was an experience more than dinner,” says Parker, whose red hair and distinctive, raspy voice complement her warm, frank demeanor. “The stranger we get, the more people love it.”

Originally from Venice, Ferro’s mother owned a restaurant and his father sang opera. Parker came to Atlanta from New York with a background in marketing. They fell in love after hearing one another’s voice on the phone.

Gut instinct is their driving force.

Credit: Lizzie McIntosh Simpson

Credit: Lizzie McIntosh Simpson

Parker and Ferro previously ran Asti, an Italian restaurant in Buckhead, and retired to travel. But they were called back into the business in 2000 when Ferro got lost in Inman Park and stumbled upon Il Localino. He convinced the owners to sell it to him, kept the name and started serving customers the next morning.

“We built this place, one table at a time.” Parker says. “The plan was for Gio to go in the kitchen, for me to be on the floor to open the door, see who shows up and build a restaurant the neighborhood wants. And that literally is what we did.”

Parker takes great pride in her staff, some of whom have worked there since the first month it opened. A former dishwasher now runs the kitchen.

“If you were on the Titanic, you want my team with you because it’s the only shot you have,” she says with a raise of her eyebrows.

If the restaurant is open, Parker is always present. She jokes that when her daughter comes to visit, she brings black outfits because she knows the only way to see her mom is to work in the restaurant.

Like any good neighborhood restaurant, Amore e Amore is a linchpin in the lives of its regulars.

“The food is just as good as Mama made and just as good as I have had in Italy,” says Michael Hartpence, a chiropractor in Jonesboro. He and his wife drive more than an hour twice a month to dine at Amore e Amore.

“One of the key things that not everyone gets is that they have developed a nice slow pace of service time, allowing you to enjoy your meal,” explains Hartpence. “When you go to a restaurant in Italy, you have a table for the night and they never rush you. They are the same way at Amore e Amore. It’s a nice-paced meal where you don’t feel rushed out the door.”

John Dwyer was the first customer who walked through the restaurant’s doors, and he remains a regular.

“My kids grew up in the restaurant. We started taking them as toddlers in pajamas to dinner with us. They both took their dates there before prom,” he says.

Credit: Lizzie McIntosh Simpson

Credit: Lizzie McIntosh Simpson

One recent night, the staff, dressed in all black, moves fluidly between tables carrying silver trays of gnocchi vodka, silky burrata and bright cocktails.

A cart next to the bar holds containers of cumulus-shaped mushrooms grown by local farmers and a wheel of fresh parmesan that servers shave into thick sheets and take to each table with warm bread and emerald green pesto.

The food starts and ends with Ferro’s expertise. Parker jokes they drive their suppliers crazy with Ferro’s standard of freshness.

“If you order the chicken parm, it’s not even pounded until you order it,” Parker says.

These days Ferro isn’t around the restaurant much while he recovers from back issues, but his presence is apparent in every fiber of the restaurant. He calls to check in during service and makes sure plating is up to his standards, the ingredients as he wants them.

There are families that have shared 23 Christmas Eve dinners at Amore e Amore. Ferro is known to make homemade bone broth for sick family members of customers. Everyone affectionately calls Parker “Mama Gale” for her motherly instincts. The staff remembers names and orders and family dynamics as guests trickle in.

“Our M.O. has always been to treat every table and every guest and every employee as much as a part of the family as we could,” says Parker. “Some people don’t realize they’re lucky until they look in the rearview mirror. But, aren’t we lucky?”

Amore e Amore. 467 N. Highland Ave. NE Atlanta. 404-600-2176,

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