By Marisa Marsey

Restaurant names, like baby names, come in waves. Remember the address age (Bistro 210; useful, pre-GPS, for recalling locations)? And the monosyllabic era (here’s looking at you, Stove)? Now restaurateurs are spurning marketing gurus who advise familiarity; christening their establishments in ways to cause head-scratching. How do you say that? What does that mean? I’d like to think it reflects an appreciation of diners’ insatiable curiosity and open-mindedness. Whatever the reason, here are two local eateries whose names may first confound, but soon will roll trippingly off your tongue.

Amale Tre Focacceria (Ah-mahl-ay Tray Foh-kach-ah-ree-ah)

Gabriele Pianezze of Amale Tre Focacceria displays a grizzled visage as crusty as his admirable ciabatta. But get him going on his not-so-secret love – Inter Milan, a pro football club in his Lombardian hometown – and a fiery passion ignites his eyes.

So, too, any mention of his daughters – Shai, Sophia and Milania – who inspired the name of the Italian deli and bread bakery he opened in Selden Market with his wife Nikki in November. It means “love them three.”

“One of my daughters – my princesses – asked me: ‘Who do you love more, Inter or us?’ I said, ‘Eh, eeee. Both! I love you both a lot!”

So the black and blue soccer flag festoons one wall, and his girls’ names are plastered on offerings throughout, from open-faced focaccia resembling rustic OG pizzas (Shai’s Vegetariana Toscano, Sophia’s Classico, Margherita Milania) to labels on delectable homemade to-go items like creamy mozzarella, lasagna, meatballs, and a luscious mash-up: cannoli cream cake.

The ardor burning within him for Inter and family flares for food, too.

“You want a nice healthy sandwich, you come here,” he says. “I make the soup fresh every day. The pasta. The sauce. The tiramisu.” Plus everything else.

His signature is stuffed focaccia, a lofty sandwich on springy flatbread, in a variety of configurations, some meaty with prosciutto and soppressata, others satisfyingly meatless with basil pesto, artichokes, roasted peppers and giardiniera.

Amale is an extension of the Pianezze’s food truck (La Cucina di Sophia) and farmers market rotations. Before those businesses, for a decade, Gabriele owned Salvatore’s at Kempsville Marketplace. That’s where he met Nikki, whose family hails from Sicily. She popped in to pick up a pizza order one day, only to discover she was at the wrong restaurant. But she wound up loving his food. And him. (Meet cute meets eat cute!)

Sitting at their store’s sole café table one recent afternoon, sporting T-shirts (his: “Just Cook,” hers: “Italia”), the couple exuberantly discuss Amale’s monthly “Taco Tuesday” featuring spaghetti tacos and lasagna tacos. And their future.

“We’d like to stay here forever,” Nikki muses as she glances around the 300-foot space. But that’s not the way Selden’s incubators work. 

In a few years, they envision a pinch of a bigger place. “Four or five tables. Cozy. With similar hours,” speculates Gabriele. “Otherwise, what’s life? Stay in a restaurant 24 hours a day, then die!” Gotta enjoy football and family, too.

208 E. Main Street, Norfolk. Daily (except Tuesdays) 11a.m. to 5p.m./6p.m.


Cibus, Rhymes with Phoebus

When native New Yorker Justin Ramos imagined his ideal restaurant, Cibus (Latin for food, nourishment), he’d never heard of Phoebus. Years later, having served in the Army and having racked up culinary experience (some under Michelin-starred chefs), it’s like he’s been granted poetic license with his dream realized in the historic Hampton neighborhood.

The former Fox Tail Wine Bar co-owner-chef and his partners Phoebe Jayne and Brad Monte, GM of dearly-departed Drexler’s (whose space Cibus Chophouse assumed), have been turning out exceptionally delicious apps (robust baked meatballs in a delicate tomato sauce are not-to-be-missed), grilled entrees, sandwiches and clever cocktails since December.

They present high-end fare, “But when you get the tab, you’re relieved,” Ramos says, citing half rack of lamb for $24 and 16-ounce prime rib for $35. He’s especially excited about weekday lunch specials including $1 beer (not a typo) and sandwiches sided with French fries and a drink for $14.

“If you went to McDonald’s, it practically would be that much,” he declares, pointing to a handsome, half-pound, fresh-ground burger on a toasted, buttered brioche bun.

BYOL (build your own lemonade), a playful part of Jayne’s thoughtful beverage program, starts with housemade ades including Brazilian limeade, blended with condensed milk for a misbegotten milkshake meets a faux mojito that’s wondrously bitter and sweet. Quaff it straight or punch it up with fruit purees and booze.

Cibus’s tin-pressed ceiling and long, light-strung dining room – tables on one side, bar on the other, and a heated, covered patio in back – emit a chummy vibe upheld by welcoming, skilled service. Local artists are invited to hang their work and receive all proceeds if sold. 

It’s a place you could come to regularly. And bring the kids. There’s a gallery for K-5 budding Picassos and shhh – don’t tell – children get a surprise free dessert.

But if you’d rather stay home, you still can savor Cibus’s excellent food. It doubles as a ghost kitchen for Nando’s, utilizing DoorDash/Uber Eats for burgers and chicken wings in a dozen flavors like heat-seekers’ faves Diablo (saucy) and Desert Dust (dry rub).

Some customers still wonder, though: “Is it cee-buhs or chee-buhs?”

I don’t think it matters. At least, not according to the Oracle of Delphi. In high school, I learned to say Del-figh. Then I went to Greece and visited Delphi’s legendary Temple of Apollo (fact: Phoebus is an alias of Apollo). The villagers living nearby said Del-fee. So back home, when friends asked about my trip, I showed them pictures of Del-fee. They sought to correct me: “You mean Del-figh.” (Rhymes with sigh.)

30 E. Mellen Street, Hampton. Open daily at 11 a.m.