Everyone has a favorite go-to Italian restaurant, and there is certainly no shortage of them. They're all pretty good, too. Most of the menus we find offer standard fare we've become accustomed to: an array of pasta dishes with all kinds of sauces, "homemade" specialties such as lasagna and gnocchi, plus seafood, chicken and veal entrees prepared every which way you can imagine. This is what we expect and look forward to.
When we crave comfort food, often it's Italian we go after. And when we have to feed our families, small or large, it is, for the most part, affordable. I haven't been to an Italian restaurant that doesn't provide huge portions, and nothing's better than digging into copious dishes of foods that are perfect for sharing. Vincenzo's joins the ranks of such places.
Antipasti caldi ($11.99) arrived brimming with two pieces of four different hot appetizers. Eggplant rollatini - made with thin slices of sweet eggplant wrapped around melted parsley-flecked cheeses that oozed onto the plate - was topped with a wonderfully light tomato sauce that had just the right amount of garlic in it.
The clams casino were tender, each one crowned with a savory bread topping tweaked with finely minced aromatic vegetables and a small piece of bacon that added a hint of smoky flavor rather than camouflaging the clams, as can sometimes happen.
Both the long-stemmed artichoke hearts and the mushrooms were stuffed with the same tasty crab imperial filling, but the mushrooms had a peppery finish that gave them extra flare.
The house salad - a cold, crisp mix of romaine and iceberg lettuces studded with grape tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, calamata olives and a smattering of purple cabbage - was enlivened by a creamy red wine vinaigrette, the dressing I chose from a mainstream selection of several types. I don't come across red wine vinaigrette very often anymore, so I found it a refreshing, a nice change from balsamic vinegar.
My guest considers herself a pasta fagioli aficionado, because, like everyone else's mother and grandmother, hers, she is sure, made the best. This recipe wasn't up to par as far as she was concerned. I liked its homespun quality but would have preferred more beans, less pasta and a little punch to the flavor.
There was no shortage of pizazz in our entrees, especially the ravioli ala Vincenzo's ($14.99). My only quibble about it came down to semantics. What drew us to this dish was its menu description: homemade broccoli rabe and spicy sausage ravioli tossed in rosa sauce. What we had were plain cheese raviolis topped with sauteed broccoli rabe and chunks of sausage in a lovely pink cream sauce. We gave it two thumbs up, but at first we were disappointed that the raviolis were not filled with the specified ingredients instead of covered with them as the menu stated. By no means did it stop us from enjoying every piquant bite.
Frutti di mare ($21.99) came with loads of goodies from the sea perched atop a mountain of spaghetti with chunky, fresh basil-laced red sauce. Clams, calamari, mussels, jumbo shrimp and scallops were all impeccably cooked. With plenty of jumbo lump crabmeat, this meal was a bargain at its reasonable price, and deliciously so.
Too often I experience garlic overload with this type of cuisine, so I was delighted that someone had a skilled hand when seasoning the sauces. I suspect that tried-and-true family recipes play a part here.
The crusty seeded Italian bread we used to sop up sauce no doubt comes from one of our revered Atlantic City bakeries that produce the kind of breads you can't stop eating, even when you've had enough.
A terrific, velvety pumpkin cheesecake ($6) with a seasonal gingerbread crust came from Irene's Signature Desserts in Egg Harbor Township. If you have to outsource desserts, this one proves that Irene's is a sure bet. A mixed berry cream tart ($6) imported directly from Italy was quite good but didn't hold a candle to the locally made cheesecake.
We were struck by how well our waitress answered our questions. She didn't skip a beat when discussing the menu. If only she could polish up on a few service issues including refilling water glasses and clearing soiled dishes before presenting the check. Once dessert is served, it's certainly safe to remove the bread. Yes, it's the bus person's job to stay on top of these things, but ultimately it's the server's responsibility to make sure they get done, even if she has to do them herself.
Done in earth-tone colors, the decor here is clean and simple with a trattoria feel to it. Two side-by-side dining rooms are bursting with wooden tables and chairs and some comfy booths. Ceramic tile flooring doesn't do much for soundproofing a noisy dining area, but it complements the restaurant's European style.
Vincenzo's is a family friendly restaurant done right. Whether you're feeding two people or 20, it may become your favorite spot for dependable Italian food made with lots of care.
Plan to take home leftovers. Happily, we did.
Taylor Yarborough is the pseudonym of a southern New Jersey food writer. Write to Yarborough c/o Features Editor Steve Cronin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Restaurant-ratings guide: 4 stars, extraordinary; 3 stars, excellent; 2 stars, good; 1 star, fair; 0 stars, poor.)
28 S. New York Road Route 9
Hours: 11 a.m. to
10 p.m. daily
Liquor license: No
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Credit cards: All major
Price range: Appetizers, $5.99 to $11.99; entrees, $15.99 to $24.99
Our bill for two: $61 plus tip