You'd think it'd be difficult to get a chef out of his kitchen. At La Piazza Cucina, an Italian restaurant in Wildwood, it's difficult to get the chef back in the kitchen.
"I sing, which is a part of the whole atmosphere at my restaurant," chef and owner Joey Montello says. "Guests will come in and say, 'Are you going to sing tonight? I brought people from out of town and told them about your singing.' Then, once they get me there, there's no going back. They have to pull me back into the kitchen."
Montello, who goes by the name Joey M., is a Wildwood third-generation Italian. His grandparents were born in Abruzzi and came to America in the early 1900s, to Wildwood in 1920.
Montello opened the La Piazza Cucina in September 2000, at a time when the Wildwoods were in an upswing.
"I had this belief that things were looking up in the Wildwoods and changing for the better and I wanted to be a part of it," he says.
He purchased the Pacific Avenue property, which was already an Italian restaurant, and made it his own.
"I brought in my own style of cooking and what we wanted to do was bring in entertainment. That was the big hook of our establishment," Montello says. "We started with Johnny Maestro and The Brooklyn Bridge, The Platters, Jimmy Beaumont and the Skyliners. It's intimate seating surrounding a big stage and we bring it all together in one atmosphere."
After word got out that Montello had some talent of his own, aside from his culinary skills, patrons began coaxing the self-proclaimed shy guy to get up on the stage. Now he's a regular act at his restaurant, performing between the scheduled bands' sets on most Friday and Saturday nights.
"I perform mostly Sinatra, Dean Martin, Bobby Darin, that kind of genre," he says.
La Piazza Cucina hosts live entertainment every Friday and Saturday. The regular lineup, aside from Montello's act, includes Wayne Dogel and Kenny Jeremiah, formerly of the Soul Survivors, 5 p.m. Friday nights and Bittersweet with Tony and Michelle 7 p.m. Saturdays in the offseason and 9 p.m. in the summer.
Guests are encouraged to push back their plates and get up and dance.
"We go from the oldies to the 21st century, from opera to Lady Gaga," Montello says.
Sometimes on a busier summer weeknight, he might also bring in a DJ, which is posted in advance on the restaurant's website and Facebook page, as are all upcoming acts.
This weekend's lineup - Friday, March 29, and Saturday, March 30 - includes Wayne Dogel and Kenny Jeremiah on both nights. Montello's birthday also is this weekend, meaning guests can be sure to see him celebrating up on stage behind the microphone.
La Piazza Cucina recently remodeled its 40-seat bar to make it more "upscale." They also added a bar menu, which includes "pizza, appetizers and sandwiches such as roast pork and chicken cutlet.
Guests also can order dinner at the bar.
Happy hour is 5 to 8 p.m. Fridays and is said by customers to be one of the best happy hours on the island, Montello says. It includes reduced-price drinks and a $5 bar food menu.