Three years ago, before Luke Palladino opened his namesake restaurant at Harrah’s Resort, Luke’s Kitchen & Marketplace at Revel and LP Steakhouse in Northfield, the creative restaurateur rebooted his already impressive career with a 30-seat Italian restaurant that allowed the chef to return to his roots and cook how he desired in a boutique eatery he always dreamed of owning.
That restaurant, Luke Palladino Seasonal Italian Cooking, was an instant success. In fact, it was so successful that Palladino’s concept that focuses on made-from-scratch cooking using the best and freshest ingredients outgrew the space, so he started looking for a bigger location.
He found it at Linwood’s Central Square, a location that formerly housed Barrels and Roman Grill restaurants and doubles his seating capacity to about 60.
“I think Central Square is the nicest shopping center in South Jersey, and since it was only a mile down the street from the original location, it just made solid sense,” says Palladino, whose restaurants are overseen by Corporate Executive Chef Anthony “T.J.” Riccardi and Corporate Director of Operations Deborah Sikora, who will often be found at the new location. “When the opportunity came to move in there, it all happened so fast. We renovated it in three weeks and really refashioned it into a gorgeous space that is perfect for Linwood’s Central Square and a great addition to our brand. It’s a bigger and better Luke Palladino Seasonal Italian Cooking … and we’re able to do lunch.”
Palladino’s LP Steakhouse (see sidebar) is located in the former, Northfield Plaza 9 Shopping Center location on Route 9, where the original Italian restaurant was located, and Luke Palladino Seasonal Italian Cooking can now not only serve more people, but it can also serve lunch, offering antipasti, appetizers, entrees, soups and salads, pasta, sandwiches and panini.
“I like that we can offer a different experience at a price point that’s affordable,” Palladino says. “People are shopping here and we capture a lot of people who are here, and they come by for a leisurely bite with a bottle of wine at lunch. But we also have a lot of people looking for a quick business lunch. With free public Wi-Fi, people can hold business meetings here and it’s so convenient. We are already seeing people over and over again. It’s been great.”
The restaurant’s acclaimed truffled grissini ($12 for four, $18 for six) — breadsticks brushed with white truffle butter, grated parmigiana and wrapped in prosciutto — can be found on both menus, as can popular favorites including arancini ($7 lunch, $12 dinner), calamari ($12) with mostarda aioli, and pastas including Bolognese ($15 lunch, $25 dinner) and spaghetti alle vongole ($15 lunch, $20 dinner) with sautéed clams, garlic, parsley, basil and tomatoes.
The lunch menu’s salads are best-sellers, particularly the grilled albacore tuna salad ($13) with fresh-cut tuna, sundried tomatoes, Sicilian capers, olives, celery, saffron Israeli cous cous, basil, lemon, extra virgin olive oil, arugula and fennel.
But the panini and sandwiches outsell everything, including the grilled or breaded chicken cutlet ($9) made parmigiana or Caprese style; the prime rib hoagie ($9.50) with caramelized peppers and onions, horseradish crema and melted provolone on a sesame-semolina roll; the porchetta ($8.75) roasted with fennel nd garlic served with New Jersey broccoli rabe, pesto, and provolone and locatelli cheeses on a pressed panino; and the dry-aged burger deluxe ($13) that was brought over from the LP Steak menu with tallegio cheese, housemade thick-cut pickles and LP special sauce on a toasted brioche roll.
Lunch also features unique pasta dishes such as the Candelle Puttanesca ($13) with toasted garlic, capers, anchovies, roasted tomato, basil and parsley; a daily grilled fish ($17); flat-iron steak ($17) with porcini mushroom, black garlic butter; and chicken piccata ($13).
“We always try to push the menu as far as variety, and that goes for our lunch menu, too,” Palladino says. “I think the more variety you offer, the more people you will attract. One day someone will get the prime rib hoagie and come in next for the albacore tuna salad. If you make it interesting and change things up, people will come back. And we are not sacrificing quality even though we are being competitive. We are conscious of other places doing lunch around us, and even if we are making less money, we still offer a great lunch.”
The larger venue also means Palladino and his staff have a larger kitchen to work in. Helmed by Executive Chef Earl Parker IV, Luke Palladino Seasonal Italian Cooking contains many of the favorites repeat customers expect, but the expanded space allows the culinary team to offer a larger menu, including more hot and cold appetizers, homemade pastas and entrees.
“It’s great to have more space,” Palladino says. “Whenever we start a new season or concept, we have all of these great ideas and menus that are enormous. Then we have to look at each other and realize we have to get a grip on what we can actually handle and figure out what will work. Then we listen to customers and change things up. We have been open six weeks in the new location and already had four revisions on the menu. And we will soon make more changes.”
Dinner, of course, is the main attraction. And Palladino made sure that the staples remained, including the chef’s daily preparation of homemade gnocchi ($19), currently made with tomato, brown butter and butternut squash; the Sicilian mixed grill ($29) with fresh market seafood coated in oregano-scented breadcrumbs with lemon-marjoram sauce and roasted veggies; pork osso bucco ($29) with rosemary citrus glaze, grilled buckwheat polenta, braised cabbage and pancetta; mushroom and tellegio crespelle ($13) with 15-year-aged balsamico for an app; and veal saltimbocca ($29) served Roman style.
“Some of our items like the truffled grissini and the crespelle are classics that you can’t take off,” Palladino says. “You don’t mess with those.”
But there’s plenty of new additions to lure diners, as well, including the house-made roasted duck sausage and grapes ($12) with rosemary, sage, balsamic vinegar and goat cheese polenta; fried Buffalo mozzarella ($12) served on salsa rosso forte; a variety of bruschetta ($10 to $12) with the standout featuring fig, speck, gorgonzola cheese and sage pesto; Inviluppa ravioli ($25) with braised beef, parmigiano reggiano, red wine sugo, celery leaf and parsley salsa verde; the amazing Casonel ($21), candy wrapper ravioli filled with roasted beets and smoked ricotta cheese served with crushed poppy seed burro fuso; and beef short ribs ($32) with red wine-saba glaze, root vegetable puree and horseradish gremolata.
“I learned to make the Casonel 20 years ago in the Veneto region of Italy when I worked and studied there,” Palladino says. “We use local beets, snoke our own ricotta … people love it.”
Palladino’s commitment to excellence can also be tasted in his desserts as Pastry Chef Jennifer Morales whips up tempting concoctions for all four of his restaurants. At Luke Palladino Seasonal Italian Cooking, don’t miss the salted caramel gelato ($7), the light, flavorful tiramisu ($10) and the flourless Valrhona chocolate cake ($10) with pistachio mousse, salted caramel, ganache, whipped cream and almond tuille.
“Jennifer trained under (Executive Pastry Chef) Thaddeus DuBois at Borgata and she is doing some special stuff for us,” Palladino says. “The cannoli ($10) is my recipe from 20 years ago when I learned how to make it in Sicily that I passed on to her. It’s her tiramisu and chocolate cake, which are delicious. And I bought a $12,000 Italian gelato machine that makes gelato perfect. And my favorite is the brown sugar strudel ($9) with local apples, raisins and pecans with caramel that I learned how to make many years ago in northern Italy, where strudel is a big deal. I probably haven’t made it in 18 years, and now that I passed it on to Jennifer, I think it’s our best dessert.”
Like his other restaurants, the new Luke Palladino Seasonal Italian Cooking was designed by Scott Eccard, who threw away the black-and-white theme of the former location and uses a black theme that comes to life with art accents, stunning but simple chandeliers, a gorgeous feature wall made out of wood and a fireplace. There’s also a cool bar to have a drink before dinner — remember to bring your own, though, since there is no liquor license — and offers ample, easy parking.
If it sounds like Luke Palladino Seasonal Italian Cooking is special to the chef, that’s because it is.
“It represents my own personal renaissance,” he says. “I was at Borgata, then made a change and I was traveling all over to the Caribbean and San Francisco and Mississippi and I was working with various partners and I just wasn’t happy. So I grabbed that unique space in Northfield in the middle of a recession in 2010 and realized that I wanted to go back to my roots and start over. That’s why this place is so close to my heart. When we first opened, we were doing 90 covers in a day during the summer, which is crazy for a 30-seater. It was a runaway hit. And that evolved into me working with Harrah’s and Revel and then moving to this beautiful shopping center and then transforming the original location into my first steakhouse. So there’s a lot of emotion behind it.”
With four restaurants and a great catering business, Palladino says he’s not done yet.
“I am always restless and looking for ways to stretch my creativity and keep moving forward and broadening my staff’s horizons,” Palladino says. “I don’t have anything in the pipeline, but I know we’re not finished.”
Check out Palladino’s other new spot
Luke Palladino’s latest creation is LP Steak Steakhouse & Seafood. Located in the Plaza 9 Shopping Center, the former location of Luke Palladino Seasonal Italian Cooking, the restaurant proves you don’t have to go into Atlantic City for a great steak.
The 30-seat BYO restaurant features Angus cuts for the 12-ounce, dry-aged New York strip ($39), 10-ounce filet ($45), 2-pound dry-aged ribeye for two ($80) and the signature 5-pound Tuscan porterhouse for four to six people ($165). His commitment to quality is further accentuated by the 8-ounce Masami Farms American Kobe flatiron steak ($29) and the to-die-for Masami Farms “Spinalis” ribeye cap ($45), which is also Wagyu, American Kobe.
No steakhouse, however, is worth its salt without having killer appetizers. And LP Steak has that more than covered with handcrafted pierogies ($12) filled with farmers cheese and made with caramelized onions, sage and brown butter; foie gras in a pot ($12) that has a creamy consistency and is topped with port wine jam; oysters casino ($14), which is a play on the clams classic with smoked pancetta and panko crumbs; and the showstopper “Real” potato skins ($12), which are scooped-out potato skins fried crispy and topped with truffle cheese fondue, house-made smoked bacon and scallion creme fraiche.
LP Steak is open 5 to 9 p.m. Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, 5 to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Call 609-646-8189 or go to LukePalladino.com .