A Hidden Gem Worth Finding
By Amanda Causey
Situated on Irongate Way off Sudley Road, across from Manassas Mall, is Gunnis Restaurant & Grille, a family owned and -operated business that has pushed through the odds, to create a unique dining experience.
“In the beginning it was very hard because we are not a chain. People did not know who we were,” said Guenther Viscarra, who owns the eatery with his wife, Blanca Viscarra, and sister, Jaqy Bertran, all natives of Bolivia. The staff are also members of his family, he said.
The restaurant, which opened in 2009, follows high standards. For example, the Virginia Department of Health has used Gunnis as a training kitchen, said Viscarra. Inspectors in training from throughout the commonwealth have visited to see the proper procedures for cleanliness in a “non-controlled environment,” he said.
Gary Hagy, former director of the state health department’s food and environmental services division and speaking on behalf of the new director this year (Julie Henderson), not available when this article was written, said that while the state health department keeps no records on food establishments it visits as “classrooms for standardization,” Gunnis may be among restaurants local health department standardization officers visit with new health inspectors and other environmental health specialists seeking standardization, a department certification required every three years.
In choosing eateries to visit during the process, “we’re going to pick a restaurant because they’re cooperative with us. They do a pretty good job. They’re going to be a better-than-average restaurant most likely,” said Hagy, now the health department’s environmental health manager for its Peninsula District. Gunnis’s patrons come from as far as Washington, D.C., and perhaps farther. With its fine Italian and American cuisine, the eatery offers a range of dishes that give its diners many options. “We are not a traditional Italian restaurant. We follow Italian food trends in the United States and constantly try new things with our menu,” said Viscarra. “We do have traditional Italian dishes, but we have much more to offer.”
One of Gunnis’s most popular menu items is “Braised Pork Shank,” which consists of hand-seasoned pork shank with a rustic grain mustard demi-glace, served with truffled mashed potatoes. Another popular dish is “Grilled Salmon Salad,” a field of greens with fresh grilled salmon, also including asparagus, zesty red potatoes, pine nuts, dates and red onions in a light champagne dressing.
Gunnis, open for lunch and dinner, includes a rich variety of soups, salads, sandwiches, pasta dishes, steak offerings and desserts on its lunch menu. In addition to soups and salads, its dinner menu lists a number of appetizers and an extensive selection of entrees, including chicken, veal, pasta and steakdishes. There is also a kids’ menu.
Along with American-style fare, there are plenty of traditional Italian offerings, including Chicken Florentine, Veal Marsala, Fettuccini Alfredo Primavera and Shrimp Scampi to name a few.
Gunnis Chef Mario Martinez, whose culinary background is in Italian cuisine, also creates one-of-a-kind sauces, combinations and flavors, which allow him to offer daily specials. Additionally, he comes up with custom menus for special events. “Since we are not a chain restaurant, we have more freedom to change our menu at the convenience of the customers.” said Viscarra.
The eatery, which accepts walk-ins but requires reservations for groups, also books special events. “We have seating for 120 and reserve for special occasions, company parties, wedding rehearsal dinners and receptions. During the holidays, we are normally very busy with parties and gatherings,” Viscarra said. “Fridays and Saturdays are times of celebration. So we have live music for our guests on those evenings.”
A small stage at the rear helps create a cozy atmosphere in the dining area where patrons can enjoy their dinner while listening to local artists perform.
Also, Gunnis’s open kitchen gives guests the opportunity to see their meals being prepared. “I feel it is important for the guests’ enjoyment to be able to see who is preparing their food and how it is being prepared,” said Viscarra.
Next to the kitchen is the bar, offering a wide variety of wines and other adult beverages.
Patrons’ dining experience at Gunnis is overwhelmingly positive, based on several rave reviews online. Customers’ biggest challenge was realizing the restaurant was there. “I’ve driven by Guinnis [sic] Restaurant and Grille no less than a billion times, and I have never noticed it was there. It showed up in my Yelp suggestions,” said a reviewer from Manassas on www.yelp.com earlier this year.
“The decor in the restaurant has been mentioned in almost every review posted. It is stunning,” the reviewer said. “Yes, it is an old [7-Eleven® ] that has been totally renovated. You can see the [7-Eleven] features on the exterior of the building, but the inside is totally original. The marble floor is beautiful.”
“It’s always nice to find that overlooked gem that you missed in your town,” said another Yelp reviewer from Manassas. “This family-run Italian restaurant treats you like family…. The food was outstanding…. The entrees we ordered were all amazing….Desserts were also heavenly.”
Out of more than 80 reviews of the restaurant on tripadvisor®,nearly 90 percent of the reviewers recommended Gunnis. “We were greeted warmly and service was superb,” said one reviewer from Culpeper, posting in April. “The kitchen was most accommodating. The desserts were delicious. We’ll definitely be back.”
“Love the food, atmosphere and staff!” said another tripadvisor reviewer from Manassas, posting in March. “Have been four times now and have never been dissapointed [sic].”
The restaurant’s catering also gets positive reviews. “I have not been to the actual restaurant, but Gunnis catered a lunch meeting I was at yesterday, and the food was so good that I wanted to write a review,” said a Vienna resident who posted on Yelp earlier this year. “We had tilapia, and it was cooked really well, and the sauce was delicious.”
Gunnis is open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday and from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. It’s closed Monday. To learn more, visit www.gunniscuisine.com .
Prince William Living Marketing Director Amanda Causey is a Georgia native and a crafter, photographer, blogger and Southern-style cook. You can email her at [email protected]