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Under the Toque

Robert Giannone

Nico's of NY

Robert Giannone, chef and co-owner of Nico’s of NY in Garden City Beach, says he’s the real deal. “You always find a menu here that’s simple and honest, with the freshest ingredients,” he says. “I’m not trying to impersonate anyone or anything.”

And when his restaurant name touts “of NY,” he means it. Giannone grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he soaked in the real experience of the industry behind the swinging doors of the kitchens of his father’s restaurants and pizzerias. Giannone’s father had his hand in 14 different eateries throughout Brooklyn, New Jersey, Winston Salem, N.C., Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. – even Cicily, Italy, where Giannone lived from age 10 to 15.

Although he always had a passion for cooking, it was after working as a fine dining server at the landmark Gargiulo’s in Brooklyn for more than 20 years that Giannone also knew he was called to be a restaurateur, just like Dad. “I always wanted to open my own restaurant because I worked for people who didn’t know how to cook and we were all at their mercy,” says Giannone.

He was prepared to move from New York to Vegas with his wife and 3-year-old son, Nico (Nico’s namesake), to pursue his dream, when his father, who had two brothers who had already migrated here, suggested he instead relocate to Myrtle Beach. Giannone served his first pasta dinner six years ago.

But he counts his blessings in this rocky, resort town restaurant industry. Giannone’s virgin visit was over the Fourth of July, the peak of tourism. “I keep a book in the kitchen with all the restaurants that have opened and closed in proximity to me around here,” he says. “There have been 28 since I’ve been here.”

So what keeps Nico’s rock-solid? “We remain consistent,” says Giannone. “We’re using the same fresh ingredients and serving the best quality, as we always have. Everything on menu is stuff I always ate growing up, or picked up at restaurants I worked at here and there.”

Giannone claims Nico’s pizza is to die for, desserts like his crème brulee and tiramisu are unbelievable, and guests from the Northeast will recognize all the right flavors in his chicken cacciatore.

Eric Martines

Flying Fish Public Market & Grill

Cooking is Southern comfort for Eric Martines, executive chef at the new Flying Fish Public Market & Grill in Barefoot Landing.

Since he can remember, his panache for food prep began with simple childhood pleasures like baking cookies or licking brownie batter off the spoon. “I’m lost anywhere outside the kitchen,” says Martines. “Being a chef provides good structure for me.”

Martines began surrounding himself in the kitchen and restaurant environment at sweet 16, working at Hotel Roanoke, in his hometown of Roanoke, Va., in the early 1990s plating salads, cutting fruit and washing dishes. “I worked my way up the ranks, leading banquets and large parties and serving as lead cook in the morning when I left there.”His hands-on training handiwork next landed him a job as a sous chef at Hunting Hills Country Club in Roanoke, Va., and as an executive chef at The Isles Restaurant in Ocean Isle, N.C., through 2009. Martines moved to Myrtle Beach about two months ago to open Flying Fish – and he loves his new home.

“I like the idea of the market and the restaurant together,” he says. “We cut all the fish in front of you. That philosophy of using everything fresh and new fish every day is a challenge I like. And the attitude of the company – a focus on providing a positive atmosphere for employees – makes a big difference on the line, when you spend most days working in the kitchen.”

Martines is proud of Flying Fish’s partnership with the South Carolina Sustainable Seafood Initiative and the Surfrider Foundation. “We work as hard as we can to keep everything sustainable,” he says.

The menu at this high-flying venue reflects Martines’ love for Southern foods, like the barbecue and baby-back ribs, mixed in with his fun feelings for tacos. “I love tacos, like our fish tacos,” says Martines. “Or stuffing them with anything I can get my hands on. And I’m a big fan of Calabash-style foods, so the menu has taken a Southern direction.”

Martines says when he’s not in the kitchen, he’s also a big fan of golf and another artistic expression: photography. “I’m just an amateur photographer, but I’m always taking pictures, like if I get to take a walk on the beach.”