When John Venuto’s father Lorenzo retired, his friends all said the same thing. “Everybody told him that he needs to open up a restaurant,” Venuto says. “His passion was always cooking.”
Living in Brooklyn, N.Y., at the time, the family knew this area well — they owned a condo here for 25 years. The family made the move from Brooklyn to Wildwood, and son John, who worked at restaurants and lived in Florida, came north to help out.
And during the second week of September, Sofia opened. As it turned out, Lorenzo wasn’t the only family member with a passion for cooking. Raised in an Italian household, with both parents born in Italy, John, brother Peter and sister Mariaenza are all proudly first-generation Americans,
Lorenzo is the chef in the kitchen, John is the pizza chef who also does all the breads and the baking. John makes the pizza sauces — his father makes the marinara sauces, the brown sauces and soups.
Mariaenza does all the operations and does salads and desserts and makes sure that all the customers are happy. Peter is a silent partner.
“My mother makes our meatballs from an old family recipe,” Venuto says. “Her meatballs are her thing.”
All this cooking adds up to a very family-oriented place that people hate to leave. Venuto says the locals have been treating them great.
“When people come here, they become family,” says Venuto.
As one would expect, the menu reflects the foods the Venuto family was raised on.
The antipasti section of the menu covers many of the classics such as mozzarella caprese ($11), baked clams ($9), calamari fritti ($11 and the zuppa di cozze ($11), mussels in red or white sauce.
Salad choices include the Sofia salad ($15) made with mixed greens, walnuts, sliced pears, cranberry and balsamic glaze. Also available are a caesar ($11) with the addition of chicken ($2.50) or shrimp ($3); an antipasto salad ($11) with mixed greens, tomato, cucumber, red onion, black and green olives, giardiniera, salame and provolone; and a gorgonzola salad ($13) with mixed greens, walnuts, roasted peppers, cucumbers and cherry tomatoes.
Sofia pasta ($18) is a large, fat macaroni, sauced with marinara sauce, sautéed mussels, fresh arugula and shaved imported Parmigiana-Reggiano.
Seafood lovers will find plenty to enjoy with a zuppa de pesce ($28); shrimp scampi ($27); a red snapper filet Milanese ($28); or a shrimp Fra Diavolo ($27).
Sauteed broccoli rabe ($12); sautéed spinach ($10), sautéed asparagus ($10); roasted peppers ($8); and a mix of eggplant, celery, onions, green olives, capers and sweet and sour tomato called caponata ($7) all can be ordered as side dishes.
Their most popular gourmet pizza is the Nonna Maria ($18), a thin-crust, square pizza, with sweet plum tomatoes, parmigiano cheese, lite mozzarella, oil, oregano and garlic topping.
The margherita pizza ($17) is also a thin crust pie with sweet plum tomato, garlic, fresh basil and the wet mozzarella cheese. Four cheese pizza ($18) has mozzarella, Fontina, provolone, and topped off with gorgonzola blue cheese. Giovanni Manichitta ($22) is a mixed seafood pizza made with shrimp, clams, mussels, scallops and calamari all in a marinara sauce or Fra Diavolo on top of the pizza shell with fresh mozzarella chopped on top and one leaf of basil in the middle to decorate.
Venuto was kind enough to clear up the confusion between calzone, panzarotti and stromboli.
“A calzone is a round pizza shell that just has mozzarella and ricotta inside and baked — a panzarotti is made the same way but deep-fried,” Venuto says. “A stromboli has mozzarella, sausage, mushroom, peppers, onions and pepperoni. The stromboli is a pizza rolled up with three slices in it so it can breathe while it is baking. Everything is made fresh daily.”
Also home-grown are the organic basil and parsley used on their pies.
Desserts are homemade at Sofia. Expect cannoli, tiramisu, ricotta cheese cake and a Sofia puff, the latter made made from a semolina dough, shaped like a small calzone, filled with cannoli cream, deep-fried and coated with powdered sugar.
Pasta and meats for every appetite
The list of pasta shapes include rigatoni, penne, spaghetti, linguini, fettucine, farfalle, capellini and fusilli. Sauces include al pomodoro ($13) made with tomato and prosciutto; aglio-olio ($13) made with oil and garlic; bolognese ($18), the famous meat sauce; vongole, red or white ($18); or vodka ($19), a meat sauce with the addition of heavy cream, fresh tomato and of course, vodka.
Chicken ($25) is served with pasta and can be prepared saltimbocca, marsala, Francese, parmigiana or picata. Veal ($28) can also be made with the same selection of sauces.
Beef at Sofia is certified angus, and includes choices such as a 10-ounce filet mignon ($30), a 12-ounce New York strip ($27) and a surf and turf ($39). The pork chop ($25) is topped with onions, mushrooms and a brown sauce.