It was my sense of adventure that pulled me in the direction of this well-known Verona restaurant. The 1980 restoration of its 18th century vaulted wine cellar had led to the discovery of some perfectly preserved Roman ruins below, which I wanted very much to see. Antonio Gioco, who owns and manages the restaurant with his father, Giorgio, welcomed us warmly when we appeared at his restaurant on a Sunday morning and he generously gave of his time, leading us immediately to their wine cellar. As we sat, he told me his family story. His grandfather purchased the restaurant in the early part of the 1900’s, but the Dodici Apostoli has a much longer history. It has been in continuous operation since 1750, already an inn back then. Twelve tradesmen from the nearby market at Piazza delle Erbe would gather here on a daily basis to talk “business” over a glass of local Valpolicella wine and a plate of pasta e fagioli. The restaurant was named after these merchants. “Not the usual 12 Apostles,” laughed Antonio, as he continued his story. When his grandfather died, his father was only 16 years old, but Giorgio was constrained to step into his father’s shoes and help support the family by working at the restaurant. Thanks to the hard work carried out by three generations, the Gioco family have made Dodici Apostoli into one of the most famous restaurants of Verona.
“And what was discovered beneath your cantina?” I asked. Antonio took us to the excavations below. There is a podium from a holy temple dating back to 50 AD, a section of Roman road, and an impressive portion of the portico from the Curia. There is also a portion of the foundation of a 1250 turret house, built using the stones and blocks recovered after an earthquake caused the collapse of the outer wing of the Arena.
The restaurant is a charming establishment and the food is superb. Antonio selected our lunch menu for us. Who can blame him for wanting to show off his gastronomic specialties? The memory of the gnocchi made with ricotta and pumpkin and the duck breast in red wine, accompanied by Valpolicella from their cellars will remain, no doubt, long after I have shed the half-kilo gained!