The Twenties is unapologetically old school in its appearance.
The classic restaurant inside the new-and-improved Claridge Hotel features dark woods wherever you look, beautiful Art Deco chandeliers, green marble in its bar, ornate drapes surrounding windows that offer a picturesque view of the boardwalk and ocean, and oil paintings and other art to perfectly match the decor.
The new owners of the restaurant — Alphonso Maiorani and Steve Konov — are also unapologetically old school when it comes to its menu, offering a great mix of steaks, seafood and Italian cuisine for dinner with a few modern twists to keep things interesting, but mostly allowing Chef Frank Mulino to let the ingredients — and his classic recipes — speak for themselves.
“We walked in to look at this room and immediately knew we had to do very little with it,” says Maiorani, who notes the room did receive some minor updates such as new carpeting, furniture, artwork and drapes. “In 50 years, this will still be a beautiful, classic room. It’s our job to bring back the great food and great service that this room always had. And what we are offering is a perfect fit for this hotel.”
Konov and Maiorani seem like a perfect fit, as well. Maiorani is an A.C. veteran who was a former vice president of food and beverage at Tropicana Casino and Resort. Together they also own Mama Mia’s in Egg Harbor Township and Primo Hoagies franchises in Egg Harbor and Galloway townships.
Maiorani worked with Claridge marketing guru Sherry Amos at the Tropicana, and when the opportunity came up to take over The Twenties, Amos reached out to Maiorani.
“And the rest is history,” Maiorani says. “The hotel group wanted to reopen The Twenties, which was the name of the restaurant when The Claridge opened in the 1930s. We really believe in Atlantic City and think Atlantic City is on the cusp of a turnaround. And we believe The Claridge is going to be a turning point. It’s going to be a hotel reminiscent of what you see in San Francisco, New York and Philadelphia.”
Since The Twenties is the only restaurant inside The Claridge, Maiorani says it has “something for everyone.”
“We offer breakfast, lunch and dinner, and with the dark woods and the look of the room, seafood and steaks seemed like a no-brainer, and with my Italian-American background … that has to be included, too,” Maiorani says of the 88-seat restaurant with a 26-seat bar.
In the morning, guests will find breakfast staples such as a Western omelet ($10), pancakes ($6 to $8) and steak and eggs ($18) with an 8-ounce sirloin, but they will also find some fun twists on the morning meal such as a Caprese omelet ($10) with fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and pesto; the Atlantic City Benedict ($11) with poached eggs, pork roll, french fries and Hollandaise sauce; and stuffed cinnamon swirl french toast ($11.50) stuffed with vanilla-scented cream cheese and bananas.
For lunch, Maiorani brags about the six different, 8-ounce Angus burgers, particularly the Texas ($10.50) with Applewood smoked bacon, American cheese, onion rings and BBQ Twenties sauce made with mayo, creamy horseradish, ketchup and relish. The ultimate grilled cheese ($9.50) with fontina, prosciutto and San Marzano jam on sliced sourdough as well as the Sriracha buffalo tenders ($9) and Italian buffalo tenders ($9) with long hots sauce and roasted peppers aioli sound like winners.
At night, however, is when you can see Mulino really doing his thing. The well-known area chef, who served in head kitchen roles for Tre Figlio, and Caruso’s and Patsy’s Trattoria at the former Atlantic City Hilton, is rolling out some of his best recipes and introducing some new ones.
“He is a true Atlantic City celebrity chef,” Maiorani says. “Every time I tell someone he is in our kitchen, they say they can’t wait to get here because they love his meatballs or something he is known for. We are so happy to have him.”
Start with pancetta-wrapped shrimp ($15) served with risotto Genovese; the clams Italiano ($12) with broccoli rabe, sweet sausage, cannellini beans and white wine; and the veal, beef and pork meatballs ($12) in a red gravy served over creamy polenta.
For a salad course, the grilled Romaine Caesar ($10) is spot on with garlic croutons, shaved pecorino and homemade dressing, but the Twenties salad ($10) with spring mix, grape tomatoes, candied walnuts, dried cranberries, blue cheese crumbles and homemade blue cheese dressing is a great runner-up.
Make sure you have a pasta course, which once again poses tough choices. But narrow it down to the bucatini Amatriciana ($20) with pancetta, caramelized onions, garlic chili flake and Mulino’s tomato sauce; and the homemade ricotta gnocchi Genovese ($20) with green beans and pesto.
“The gnocchi are made in-house with ricotta instead of potatoes, so they are a little lighter and fantastic,” Maiorani says.
Meat lovers will want to devour the certified black Angus 16-ounce T-bone ($40) and the enormous veal chop Milanese ($47) with arugula, balsamic, extra virgin olive oil and fresh mozzarella.
“He hand cuts that veal chop in back, pounds it down thin, breads it, seasons it … it’s amazing,” Maiorani says.
Popular seafood dishes include the grilled tuna ($32) with white bean puree, olive tapenade and roasted cherry tomatoes; and the olive-oil-poached salmon ($30) with spinach, raisins, pine nuts and pancetta.
“We get the salmon fresh, cut it down, do our thing with it,” says Maiorani, adding that the menu will change seasonally to take advantage of fresh produce and seafood.
“We have a bunch of stuff in the wings waiting to be put on the menu,” Maiorani says. “It’s nice to have a little arsenal of recipes to unleash.”
Maiorani says he believes his team can bring The Twenties back to being considered one of the best food spots in town.
“We want to take care of our hotel guests, but we also want to be that spot for locals and tourists,” Maiorani says. “We want people to stop in for a breakfast or a burger at lunch and then come have a special dinner with us at this special place.”