MARGATE - Fedeli's is the kind of place where the owner both cooks and hosts in the offseason but manages another chef in the peak summer months.
The restaurant's old-school roots are reflected in its name; Fedeli's, the original Ferraro's, harks back to Atlantic City's pre-casino era.
Ferraro's was on the block where Caesars is now. After being displaced and reopening Downbeach, the current operator's aunt changed the restaurant's name to her married name, Fedeli, while keeping a reference to Ferraro's so longtime customers could find their way to the new location. They still can, and they'll find little changed.
Old school has its charms, but also translates into tired decor with hard wooden chairs, older dark red carpets, fake flowers, a recorded soundtrack of instrumental standards and pictures of yesterday's celebrities. Fedeli's does offer clean white tablecloths and soft lighting, which helps.
Owner Dan Fedeli greeted us is a t-shirt and white pants, and after seating us, repaired to the kitchen to make our food. Our waitress called us "youse guys," but was charming and efficient, knowledgeable about the food and clearly liked working there.
Fedeli's is BYOB, a nice way to keep costs down, especially in pricey Margate. We brought a bottle of red wine and one of white, as we didn't know what we'd be ordering. The waitress offered to open our wine but did not bring an ice bucket for the white. Whether you're drinking red or white, you'll get the same type of all-purpose wine glass, another indication Fedeli's is more down home (Italian-style) than upscale.
A large, free house salad consisted of fresh romaine, shaved carrots, celery, tomatoes, garbanzo beans, oregano and a small amount of onion, with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. We asked for cracked black pepper but the waitress said she broke the only pepper grinder last time she was working, and they hadn't yet replaced it.
The Italian bread was fresh but not warm, and apparently rationed. We got a basket with three slices and some wrapped pats of butter.
We chose the provolone and proscuitto, which was the most expensive appetizer at $14.95. Cubes of provolone imported from Italy and thin rolls of Citterio proscuitto were served on a bed of haphazardly arranged, crunchy greens. Presentation did not appear a priority, although the quantity was generous and the provolone was delicious. The proscuitto, although a respected brand, was overly dry and tough. We did not finish it.
Soup of the day would have been an inexpensive choice at $3.95, but on this day, Dan did not feel like making one, the waitress said.
Entr�e choices were old-school, too, with the usual veal and chicken dishes; pasta dishes such as gnocchi and ravioli; or sausage, pepper and onions. Veal marsala was $27.95 and veal parmesan $26.95. Eggplant parmesan, a house favorite, is less expensive and can be prepared with gluten-free flour on request.
There was no steak entree, and limited seafood choices included lobster ravioli at $22.95 and pasta and clams at $18.95. Salmon was the only fish listed.
One of us chose Linguine with Clams in red sauce and got more than a dozen very-tender littlenecks, not to mention the additional clams chopped up in the superb sauce.
We have to rave about the very unusual, very bright-tasting tomato sauce, or gravy as the Italians call it. Unlike what Grandma traditionally slaved over for hours, this sauce is bright red, cooked very little using fresh tomatoes, garlic and herbs but no meat stock, and no sugar is added.
So it's vegetarian friendly.
All the pasta was al dente, and because of the wonderful sauce, we ate the whole side of pasta that came with our delicious Veal Piccante ($26.95.) This was quite a job, since there was a whole lot of tender veal, well-seasoned with lemon, capers and garlic. Our only quibble with the dish: the seeds were left in the lemon slices. Removing them is a small, nice touch that was overlooked by the one-man kitchen.
Another small oddity: Our waitress brought out one entree at a time instead of both on a tray. We didn't have to wait long for the second dinner to appear, but it did produce an awkward moment for seemingly no reason.
Desserts were limited to cannoli and tiramusu when we dined; Fedeli's also offers pies in summer. The only homemade dessert is cheesecake, but it was not available that night as Dan must not have felt like making one, the waitress joked.
We had the cannoli, which was an acceptable commercial version you can get anywhere. No complaints at $4.50; a nice sweet, but not too-sweet, bite.
Fedeli's may not appear to have updated its menu in years, but it keeps up with customers and the times. While there are no gluten-free items listed on the menu, the waitress said they have gluten-free flour that can be substituted on any breaded items if you ask.
There is no children's menu, per se, but the owner said they can cut any entr�e portion in half and charge accordingly.
Fedeli's also does banquets - and may be closed to the public if they are booked for one, so call to check.
This is a throw-back to an earlier time on Absecon Island, with an unpretentious atmosphere, friendly service and Italian food that literally tastes home-cooked.
Morgan Tyler is the pseudonym of a southern New Jersey food writer. Write to Tyler c/o Taste Editor Felicia Compian at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ratings guide: 4 stars, extraordinary; 3 stars, excellent; 2 stars, good; 1 star, fair; 0 stars, poor.
9403 Ventnor Ave., Margate
Hours: Dinner 5 p.m. to as late as 9:30 p.m. offseason; later on Saturdays in season
Liquor license: BYOB
Credit cards: Most major
Disabled access: Yes
Price range: Appetizers $3.95-$14.95; entrees $12.95-$27.95
Our bill for two: $69.92, plus tip