By Karl Vela
Meet the crown jewels of Margate: John’s steaks, shuckers, and the illustrious Johnny’s Café. These three restaurants run the culinary gamut, offering guests intimate dinners, a place to cool off with a beer, and a decadent seafood feast, all steps away from each other. There are two very important qualities that unite these three restaurants, however different they may seem: quality ingredients and flawless execution. And there are two people responsible for this rigorous attention to detail: husband-and-wife team Johnny and Giovanna Liccio. To tell their story—and the story of their restaurants—it’s best to work backwards.
Shuckers is the newest addition to Johnny and Giovanna’s family of restaurants, which was in planning for over two years before opening to the public in 2014. The concept is simple: serve the highest-quality seafood in a fun and relaxed setting right off the beach. A no-brainer, right? Now add to that phenomenally well-executed prime rib and steaks for the land-lovers in your group and you’ve got what makes Shuckers the place to be on Ventnor Avenue. World- class oysters and decadent entrées without the pretension, followed by a stroll on the beach in a T-shirt and flip-flops? Yes, please.
But Shuckers is more than meets the eye. The delectable seafood they serve is the freshest available and the quality never wavers. This is because Liccio has built relationships with local seafood purveyors all over the state for the better part of the decade. Additionally, Johnny has a wide reputation for being extremely particular when it comes to his seafood; every fish is inspected for prime quality and freshness, and Johnny’s purveyors know to bring him only the best of the best, or else they will be turned away. “I will only accept the finest seafood our purveyors have to offer and they have learned that about me, so they don’t bother bringing us anything less,” he says.
Then there’s the turf to Johnny’s surf: John’s Steaks, which the Liccios opened in 2013. It serves up classic cheesesteaks and sandwiches but with a local touch that makes them truly unique. Rather than mimic the “traditional” Philly Cheesesteak, the Liccios embrace what they love about their local community. They use prime cuts from local purveyors and the bread is sourced from the beloved Rando Bakery in Atlantic City. “It’s simple, really. If you go to Philly, you want a Philly Cheesesteak. If you come here, you’re going to want the best that our community has to offer, not a copy of something else,” Giovanna says.
But don’t stop at the Cheesesteak. There’s a much larger menu at John’s Steaks to peruse, featuring gourmet chicken steaks, roast pork, and Nathan’s hot dogs. Not only does John’s Steaks “taste the part” perfectly, it looks the part as well, and neighborhood residents were quick to adopt it as their neighborhood steak shop. While you may not see what makes John’s Steaks so special at first glance, you will find—and taste—its true character inside a homemade roll.
Last but not least of the Liccio triptych is Johnny’s Café, the illustrious institution of Margate that has been a local favorite since 2007. Over the last seven years, Johnny’s has more than doubled in size and has been remodeled into an elegant and stylish restaurant that transforms into a chic late-night lounge. Don’t be turned away for fear of pretentiousness, however. At Johnny’s, the premier virtues have been quality and value since day one. The restaurant still continues to offer the same cuisine that has driven patrons there in droves, but like a fine wine it continues to refine and improve itself through the ages.
In addition to the praise of patrons, Johnny’s Café is the winner of a whole host of awards, including Best of Margate 2014, Best Breakfast (SJ Magazine), OpenTable Choice Award, and Philadelphia Magazine’s Top 32 Restaurants. Impressively, Johnny and his empire haven’t grown complacent in their success. In addition to the heralded mainstays on the menu, Johnny is committed to making seasonal changes to his menus to reflect the fresh offerings of the area. “Every season, I add a little bit to the menus to complement guests’ favorite dishes,” he says. “While the menu stays true to itself, my goal is to never stop improving.”
When asked about their involvement in the community, Giovanna says, “Margate is home for us and we feel very blessed to have such a wonderful and loyal clientele.” Indeed, this gratitude is reflected in every aspect of all three restaurants. Beyond the delicious food and impeccable atmosphere, every member of the staff is exuberant, helpful, and genuinely happy to serve their loyal patrons. While the cuisine and concept behind all three restaurants may be oceans apart, they are all tied tightly together by the friendliness and integrity that Johnny and Giovanna Liccio bring to the table.