Pasta Pesto

Chef owner Milton Baralos serves a margarita pizza from the brick oven. Pasta Pesto Italian Grill, 3810 Atlantic Ave., Wildwood.

Dale Gerhard

After running a pizzeria on the Wildwood boardwalk for more than 10 years, Miltiados Baralos knew it was time for a change.

“I was thinking of going to school or going back to Greece,” Baralos says. The idea of getting a diploma from a culinary school appealed to him more.

After attending the Academy of Culinary Arts in Mays Landing, things began to change. Together with a friend, Emmanouil Kantzios, they decided to open a diner, then another.

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Marvi’s Diner and Pink Cadillac Diner have become two well-known landmarks in Wildwood.

Three years later, the partners have done it again with a more upscale restaurant called Pasta Pesto Italian Grill at Spicer and Atlantic avenues in Wildwood.

Baralos is the chef/owner, Kantzios is the operator/owner.

“He doesn’t know how to cook very well,” says Baralos.

Kantzios is what Baralos calls a “handy guy,” good at fixing this and that, and with general repairs.

Fortunately, one taste of their food tells you that Baralos can cook, their skills offset each other, making for a very good partnership.

“We were thinking of doing a Mediterranean restaurant, but we got scared,” Baralos says. “Everyone loves pasta and pizza.”

They were very sure of one thing: “Everyone loves pasta and pizza,” says Baralos.

While several restaurants in Wildwood were offering pizza and alcohol, or pasta and alcohol, it seemed that no one was offering all three. Their new place, Pasta Pesto Italian Grill offers all three, in a family restaurant where the kids can have pasta or pizza and the adults can have wine with their meal.

The restaurant has tables of all sizes for families. “We can accommodate everybody,” Baralos says.

The property that formerly housed the Casba Comedy Club has been completely renovated. “The only thing we kept is the four walls,” Baralos says.

Baralos is most proud of the open kitchen they have built with a brick oven for cooking pizza.

“You can see how we make the food,” Baralos says.

From the full-length mural outside, to the painted wooden chairs and tiled floors inside, the restaurant has the feel of a bustling open-air Italian market. The scene is a busy one with cooks working in the kitchen and wait staff running around from table to table.

Many of the products used on the menu are displayed for sale around the dining room and bar.

The buffalo mozzarella that is used on their pizza and pasta dishes is hand made every day. It can be purchased to take home, along with the many imported ingredients arranged around the dining room: San Marzano tomatoes from Italy, dried pasta in assorted shapes, pizzelle, and bags of flour.

The kitchen uses only extra virgin olive oil from Italy and has gluten-free pasta available.

Many ingredients are purchased locally including flounder and scallops, and meats which come from a local Wildwood butcher.

Baralos knows that with Greece and Italy being neighbors, much of the produce and seafood they use is similar, prepared similarly, but with both countries serving excellent food.

“I take some Italian food and blend it with the Greek food,” Baralos says, whose creative menu features saganaki ($10), panko breaded and fried parmigiana cheese, a classic calamari fritti ($10), and a Calamari Bakaliko ($11) made with pepperoncini, lemon wedges and assorted olives.

Other popular appetizers include clams Posillipo ($10) and melanzana timbala ($10), fried eggplant, tomato sauce and the house made mozzarella.

From the brick oven, the most popular pizza is the Margarita ($9), made with pomodoro, buffalo mozzarella, basil, and extra virgin olive oil. Other options include quatrietta fontina ($10), a four-cheese pizza made with buffalo mozzarella, ricotta, feta, and parmigiano regiano.

Popular, too, are the flatbreads such as the Fresca ($11), made with caramelized onions, bacon, parmesan cheese and basil.

Pasta Pesto Italian Grill offers paninis, wraps, and salads such as the Roca ($13) with arugula, crumbled blue cheese, tomato, capers, and prosciutto.

Pasta is made fresh locally. Baked pasta includes lasagna ($17), ziti ($16), manicotti ($17), and stuffed shells ($17). Seafood pasta includes Portofino ($22) with clams, mussels, shrimp, scallops, crab meat and a white wine sauce; or pasta and clams ($17) made red or white.

Meat for the carnivore includes a N.Y. Strip ($19), prime rib ($19), and Kopsidia (for two/$28) with strip steak, pork chop, chicken and sausage. Chicken ($15) and veal ($17.50) can be made parmigiana, marsala, Francese, alfredo, scallopini, and piccata.

Desserts include tiramisu ($6); strawberry cheesecake ($7); and panna cotta ($5).

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