Lori Salvo, co-owner of Presto in Somers Point, loves to tell the story about the first-time customer who ordered gnocchi for lunch. Almost inhaling the plate of gnocchi, he complimented them as the best gnocchi he ever had.
Three hours later, he returned with his family to have more gnocchi for dinner.
"I rarely go to a restaurant two times in one day," he says. "Actually, I've never done that."
"It's incredible how well we have been received by people," Salvo says.
Technically, Lori Salvo takes care of the front of the house and her husband, David Salvo, is the chef.
The reality is, they both work everywhere in their restaurant.
"Late nights, early mornings, that's the way it goes in this business," Lori Salvo says. "People wait in line for our gnocchi."
With restaurants in Margate and Longport for more than six years, they have a huge following - just for their gnocchi.
The Salvos never get tired of hearing customers say their food is special.
While doing everything "old school" from scratch, the way he learned from his family, David Salvo recently suffered an injury caused by rolling so many gnocchi.
"Up until now, it was his secret recipe. He actually had to let me do it," Lori Salvo says.
The recipe for their gnocchi is under lock and key in the back office.
In their previous restaurants, David Salvo would prepare the gnocchi in the walk-in box so no one else could see his technique. Presto does not have a walk-in box to hide in.
Presto also does not have a freezer, so everything is made fresh daily.
After David's injury, Lori Salvo had to learn how to roll the gnocchi very quickly. The secret is in good hands.
"Chefs are crazy about their recipes, and they should be if they are that good," Lori Salvo says.
Not made with potatoes, which sometimes get dense and hard, David Salvo's gnocchi are made with a blend of four different cheeses.
Light and fluffy, they named them "pasta pillows" instead. They plump up really big, like nothing you have ever tasted, and that separates them from those at other restaurants.
On their new menu, they prepare them about 15 different ways with various sauces.
Blush ($16) is the one that started it all. Marinara sauce or Ragu, the meat-based tomato sauce, are also the same price.
Passelli ($18) is a blush sauce garnished with peas and prosciutto.
One of the chef's favorites is the 9th Street ($18), named after the main street of the Italian market in Philadelphia, with two readily recognizable ingredients: broccoli di rabe and aged provolone, baked along with the gnocchi.
David ($19) is served in an unusual sage-butter sauce with prosciutto and asparagus. Other versions include combinations of shrimp, crab meat, spinach, olives and other ingredients.
Other pasta available on the menu includes rigatoni, spaghetti and whole-wheat pasta.
David Salvo is also justly proud of his chicken and veal dishes that use ingredients from a famous South Philadelphia butcher. Chicken ($17.95) or veal ($21.95) can be made with a number of different sauces, all served with a side of vegetables and pasta.
Sophia is topped with eggplant and fresh mozzarella with a demi-glaze sauce; Milanese is breaded, baked and served with a spring mix bruschetta; and Presto is served with jumbo lump crabmeat, lemon, garlic and white wine with a side of gnocchi for an additional charge.
At lunch, the gnocchi can be ordered in half-portions for half-price.
Sandwiches include a chicken cutlet, turkey meatball, a boardwalk special sausage and pepper and an award-winning Italian roast pork sandwich with broccoli di rabe or roasted red peppers and aged provolone. All sandwiches are $7.95 each.
Everything on the menu is prepared with the freshest of ingredients and with that old-school feel of amazing Italian home cooking at a reasonable price.
The Salvos like to keep it simple and bring the flavor, using tried and true recipes from generations of his South Philadelphia family.
"You are only as good as your last meal," says David Salvo, who makes every soup to order in a pan, not a pot.
After 20 years they are still doing things the same way.
"We build our business one plate at a time," says David Salvo.
And word of mouth about their amazing food is the key to their success.
Indulge in Milan
Knowing they make everything from scratch, customers frequently ask the Salvos to recreate a dish created at the famous Jimmy's Milan restaurant in Philadelphia. A meal in itself, the Milan salad ($12.95) has crispy romaine, fresh bacon, egg, olives, onions, tomatoes and jumbo shrimp tossed in house-made Russian dressing.
At Presto, they believe that gnocchi should be more than just an entree. From the menu, they are served floating in chicken broth, toasted like mozzarella sticks with a tomato dipping sauce, and even as dessert. Fried gnocchi melt in your mouth. Coated with brown sugar, cinnamon and chocolate, the creamy center will get your attention.