When Andrea Covino decided to move his successful 8-year-old restaurant from Newfield to downtown Millville, he didn't change much other than the location.
What he was after was a location that offered some foot traffic, unlike his former restaurant on Route 40. The Arts District in downtown Millville and the newly renovated Levoy Theater down the street could provide all that.
Of course, moving from an established location can bring its own set of problems. Would his regular customers follow him to the new location?
Covino believed they would.
"We ended up in Millville because it is still close enough for our Newfield customers to come to us," Covino says. "Our customers used to travel 20 minutes and make a left, now they travel 15 minutes and make a right."
And if new customers at Andrea Trattoria Italiana are traveling from Atlantic City, Mays Landing Road comes right into Millville.
"We never even changed the menu from Newfield to here because most of the stuff we have is what the customers really like," Covino says. "As soon as they see the menu they say 'I have something to eat.'"
Covino says the mozzarella affumicata ($9.99), the pan-seared smoked mozzarella appetizer with roasted pepper, basil, extra virgin olive oil and garlic, is one of those items his regulars simply won't let him take off of his menu.
"Without seeing the menu, they want it," Covino says.
Another popular appetizer is the asparagi al prosciutto ($9.99), asparagus spears wrapped with thin slices of prosciutto and topped with melted slices of sharp provolone cheese. Broccoli e salsiccia ($10.99), which features sauteed broccoli di rabe with sausage, sun-dried tomato and truffle oil, is just a little different than the typical dish served in other restaurants.
Insalate di mare ($10.99) is a steamed seafood salad composed of shrimp, calamari and scallops. Covino thinks steaming is the best way to cook tender seafood and dresses it simply with fresh lemon and extra-virgin olive oil.
Covino still purchases baby spinach and arugula from a farmer in Newfield. The spinach is used in spinaci ($6.99), made with baby spinach, crispy pancetta, apples and a gorgonzola cheese dressing. The arugula is used in the Rugola e noci ($6.99), a salad made with toasted walnuts and goat cheese, served with a citrus vinaigrette.
Sometimes Covino can purchase beautiful zucchini flowers from the same farmer who has just built a greenhouse. For a special, he may batter-dip and fry the flowers, or stuff them with cheese. Daily specials give the chef a chance to put his mark on many locally sourced ingredients.
Pasta e fagioli ($5.99), the famous cannellini bean and ditalini pasta soup with vegetables, is a standard on the menu. Zuppa del giorno, or soup of the day, might be made from locally raised broccoli di rabe mixed with a puree of chick peas, a classic cream of mushroom or a fresh asparagus soup, according to whatever is available in the market.
Come spring, you might find a soup made from sweet-tasting, wintered-over broccoli di rape.
"Every day we do a different risotto," Covino says.
Seafood or mushrooms might take a leading role in the dish on any given day. Sometimes the restaurant serves risotto Milanese with saffron if it is serving an osso bucco on the day's menu.
Branzino is found on the menu almost every day, sometimes prepared in a salt crust with lemon, capers and white wine.
Other seafood choices change with availability.
All entrees come with a house salad, a vegetable and potato of the day.
Desserts are homemade and tiramisu, creme brulee, white chocolate cheesecake and a frozen lemoncello souffle similar to a semifreddo are just some of the choices on the menu.
"I make my own bread. I make my own pasta," Covino says.
Linguini, spinach fettuccine, ravioli and gnocchi are all homemade at Andrea Trattoria Italiana.
Covino, who came from Naples, Italy, in 1987, went first to Philadelphia as the chef at Girasole in Center City. When they opened up a restaurant in Atlantic City, Covino moved to the shore with them.
His first restaurant, Andrea Trattoria Italiana, opened in Newfield in 2004. Andrea Trattoria Italiana II opened a year later.
The new restaurant opened just before Labor Day this year.
In line with a typical trattoria in Italy, Andrea Trattoria Italiana is a family affair.
"I do the kitchen, and she does the dining room, " Covino says.
Covino has met many other Italian immigrants who have settled in the Vineland area. That is where he now lives with his family.
While most are from his area of southern Italy, Naples to Sicily, he also has found a few transplanted northerners from Bologna and Trentino.
Fortunately, you don't have to be from Italy to appreciate fine Italian cooking like Covino's.
"We try to do the best Italian food in South Jersey, and to make people feel like they are in Italy," Covino says.
Getting around the shore
Andrea Trattoria Italiana II, at 4216 Park Road in Sea Isle City, 609-263-5001, is the second of Andrea Covino's restaurants. Open until January, winter hours are 4 to 9 p.m. Fridays, 4 to 10 p.m. Saturdays.
Branzino, the Mediterranean sea bass, arugula salad with toasted walnuts and goat cheese and a pan-seared smoked mozzarella appetizer are three of the most popular dishes served at Andrea Trattoria Italiana.
Winter menu goes wild
Chef Andrea Covino will be offering special prix fixe dinners in the fall and winter months. Expect to see wild game such as rabbit, quail and pheasant on the menu prepared with an Italian flair.