Fans of Joe Italiano's Maplewood II in Mays Landing need not worry about rumors the restaurant is under new management.
Jim Italiano, who has helmed The Original Joe Italiano's in Hammonton with his sister Linda since the 1980s, says the siblings are simply helping ease some of the stress of running a restaurant from their father's shoulders. And they're not alone; their brother Tommy remains in the kitchen at Maplewood II, and "Papa Joe, who makes everything good" at the family's three area restaurants still is on premises, "keeping an eye on the recipes and his kids, making sure everything is up to the family standards," Jim Italiano says.
"The Italiano family, we've been here for a long time, 70 years plus. We're kind of a big name and definitely have influenced the community (through our restaurants)," the third generation Italiano in America says. "We have a reputation to uphold, people expect certain things; they all know my father.
"We're more just breathing new life into it. We have some big plans - for renovations, and family-friendly pricing. No one is changing the menu," Italiano added.
Everything is staying in the Italiano family, which has been feeding its neighbors in the heavily Italian-influenced area since the 1960s.
The Joe Italiano who "makes everything good" isn't the original Joe Italiano from Naples Italy, but rather his son, making him Joe Italiano Jr. Jim and Tommy Italiano learned to cook from their father while in their teens about 30 years ago. Then there are Jim Italiano's own sons, Joe - named for the eldest brother who died in his teens - and Jim, his own namesake, who earned his chef's hat from the Academy of Culinary Arts at Atlantic Cape Community College in Mays Landing. Jim's wife Robin and sister Linda also work full-time in the family business "all trading roles - wherever is needed," Jim Italiano says.
The recipes - especially the seafood recipes such as the famous white sauce - have remained the same throughout this family's long career in feeding area residents. Italiano says the story behind his father Joe's white spaghetti is about as original as his preparation of clams casino, which first came to popularity not long before he opened his own restaurant.
"It's basically his own version of bacon and some other ingredients; like cheese for the white clams," Jim says. "With the white sauce, my grandfather thought he was crazy; everyone said it couldn't be done, a white spaghetti sauce."
But done it was, and area residents have been loving the Joe's Special Seafood mix of shrimp, clams, crabmeat, mussels and scungilli in their natural juices with olive oil for decades.
And the Italiano's continue to influence their neighbors, leading the singing for Sunday worship at Williamstown Calvary Assembly of God church, where Robin's dad is the pastor. Then they simply come back to work as a family after services, sharing their Sunday dinner of clams casino, white spaghetti, ravioli, meatballs and veal parmesan with their neighbors, just as they have for 70-plus years.
Red Clams Casino
•8 choice top neck clams
•1 green bell
•pepper, chopped small
•1 Spanish onion, chopped small
•5 slices bacon, (the darker parts, fat removed) chopped small
•3 tablespoons ketchup
•3 tablespoons barbecue sauce
•1 tablespoon sugar
•Some chopped pimentos
Cook all ingredients but clams together for one hour, stirring occasionally.
Open raw clams and top with mixture. Broil on medium heat 4 inches away from heat for 10 to 15 minutes.
White Clams Casino
•8 choice top neck clams
•4 teaspoons clarified butter, divided
•Granulated garlic, to taste
•Light garlic salt, to taste
•1 1/4-inch thick slice
•provolone cheese, cut into
•1 1/2 strips raw bacon, fat removed and cut into 1/2-inch wide pieces
Open raw clams and top each with 1/2 teaspoon butter. Sprinkle garlic and garlic salt to taste, then top each with provolone and bacon.
Broil on medium-high heat about 3 inches from heat until golden brown.