Italians came to the New World in the early 20th century inspired by the promise of the American Dream. When they didn’t find streets paved with gold, they settled for the cracked asphalt in the poorer neighborhoods in New York City. As they set up successful businesses and made money, they began moving out to the suburbs in New Jersey. Many of their family businesses reside here on the shore today, thankful for the crowds of tourists that flock to the beach for vacation every year. Many of these businesses are restaurants, since vacationers (as well as local residents) love to eat out. Here are some of the best Italian restaurants on the Jersey shore.
This family-owned cafe moved from Brooklyn to Atlantic City in 1986 and uses fresh, seasonal ingredients (often from their old Brooklyn neighborhood) in its dinner services. The restaurant has white tablecloths, but still provides a warm, friendly atmosphere. The Cheese Man makes fresh mozzarella straight from the curd in the dining room so that everyone knows the cafe’s cheese is homemade and not storebought. Try unique Italian American dishes like Asparagus Parmigiana (lightly breaded and sauteed with mozzarella and tomato), Spedini alla Romana (fried mozzarella with butter sauce), and Cavatelli pasta (with broccoli rabe, Italian sausage, garlic, and oil).
At LuNello in Cedar Grove, you can order traditional Italian desserts like Biscotti or Chocolate Mouse Cake along with more creative items like Cannoli Cake with Vanilla Buttercream and Mudslide Cookies. During the summer, you can eat from their farm to table menu, which features organic and non-GMO fruits and vegetables from a local farm. The restaurant gets its fish straight from the Mediterranean! The beautiful presentation and lovely service are what give this restaurant a leg up. The chef graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and worked in a number of reputable restaurants in New York City, including the Rainbow Room. Enjoy fusion creations like Mozzarella di Bufala (buffalo mozzarella), Strozzapreti Polpa di Granchio (hand rolled pasta with crab meat and tomato sauce), and Trippa con Polenta (tripe in tomato sauce).
This small Collingswood restaurant seats 35 in a romantic, intimate setting and focuses on Sicilian food. The chef and owner learned cooking from the women in his life and business from his grandparents’ restaurant in South Philly. He worked his way up and attended Temple University and The French Culinary Institute. He’s worked with well-known chefs throughout Philly and traveled throughout Italy, where he was inspired in 2011 to create a restaurant focused on simple ingredients and meticulous preparation.
The old photographs of Sicily and dark wooden walls create a nostalgic feel, just like the food calls on Old World traditions along with the new. The restaurant is named after fried dough balls that can be sweet or savory. Some of the most artistic dishes include Finocchi Salsiccia (fennel sausage with broccoli rabe), Pesto Trapanese (fusilli with almond-pistachio pesto), and Sicilian FIsherman Stew (seafood with saffron and couscous). For dessert, try the restaurant’s namesake or the homemade Gelati.
This small, charming Hoboken restaurant is family owned and full of friendly staff and regular customers. Named after the owner’s father-in-law, the place has only 24 seats and you often need a reservation to get in. The restaurant serves large portions, but has a short daily menu. Bring cash if you go here (since they don’t accept cards) and try the Mesculan Salad with Red Onions and Tomatoes.
This Whippany restaurant started out as the Bel’vedere in 1976, hoping to provide Americans with gourmet Italian that wasn’t just spaghetti and meatballs. When the couple realized they needed more space in 1984, they opened Il Capriccio. With house plants, low lights, comfy armchairs, and piano music, this place feels like home.
Chef and Owner Antonio Grande trained at ENALC in Italy and worked in restaurants all over the country – and then internationally – before coming to America in 1973. Meats are organic and free-range while vegetables are grown on the chef’s farm. While the fish comes from all over, the pastas are homemade from local eggs. A lot of work goes into perfecting a dish before it reaches the customer.
Try the Pappardelle ai Porcini (square pasta in mushroom cream with cheese), Kamut Spaghetti con Ventresca (ancient grain spaghetti with tuna, capers, black olives, tomatoes, and olive oil), Trofie con Ragu di Coniglio al Vino Rosso (trofie pasta quills in rabbit ragout in red wine sauce), Pesce Spada con Velluntina di Porcini (swordfish breaded with mushrooms and topped with truffle butter). For dessert, have Gelato, Sorbet, or a dessert wine!
The restaurant sometimes has Jazz nights, gourmet wine and spirits tastings, mixology and comfort foods events, cooking lessons from the chef, and evening cooking and eating events at the chef’s farm!
While these are some of the best Italian restaurants on the Jersey shore, they certainly aren’t all of them. Where do you go for Italian down the shore?