Mary Reyes loved Tre Figlio so much that she bought it. Well, it wasn’t that simple, but it’s accurate.
“I worked for a construction company for 30 years in Atlantic City, and I was a customer at Tre Figlio for 20 years,” Reyes says. “So the previous owner (Toni Cordivari) was thinking about retiring, and we talked about it for a year, and then we finally came to terms, and I ended up owning it. Never in a million years did I think I would ever own a restaurant. But it was something different, something I wanted to do … so I went for it.”
She sure did.
After closing for three months, Tre Figlio reopened as Assaggio!, complete with a makeover that included new flooring, a larger downstairs bar and a color scheme that replaced traditional Italian reds with lighter, more contemporary colors.
After purchasing it, the former general manager stayed for a year to teach Reyes the ropes, and Cordivari’s son remained in charge of the kitchen for an easy transition.
About three years later, Reyes runs Assaggio! like it’s been something she has done her whole life. Just watch the way she interacts with customers, explains the menu and coordinates service with her staff, and you would swear she grew up in the business.
“I love my customers,” Reyes says. “I love to interact with them. I have wonderful, repeat customers, and many of them have become personal friends.”
While Reyes’ personality is enough to keep customers happy, it’s the Italian cuisine that keeps them coming back. And Executive Chef Jorge Barreto has been impressing longtime Tre Figlio fans while attracting new ones.
“He doing a wonderful job,” Reyes says. “He’s always thinking of something new.”
With the assistance of Sous Chef Robert Seidel, Barreto is creating a buzz about Assaggio! and its cuisine.
Barreto, a former Academy of Culinary Arts student at Atlantic Cape Community College, worked at Tre Figlio for 10 years, learning many of the recipes that still exist on the menu today.
For starters, all of the pastas continue to be made in house — all of them — including the cheese ravioli ($9 for a taste, $14 for entree); the fettuccine for the alfredo ($18); the gnocchi ($11, $17) served with a choice of three sauces; and the cannelloni ($18) stuffed with veal and spinach in a rosa sauce with fresh mozzarella.
“They are all made in house and always have been,” Barreto says. “I take a lot of pride in that, especially with the specialty pastas I make. We do pumpkin gnocchi in October or basil-infused pasta. You can do so many things with fresh pasta.”
One of Barreto’s latest creations — beet gnocchi with a lobster cream sauce — can be found as a recurring special and will end up on the restaurant’s new menu that will debut next month.
“I love playing around with flavors like that,” Barreto says. “I put it as a special and people just started raving about it and were ordering large trays for parties, and it wasn’t even on the menu. I was surprised how much it took off. We did four staff tastings of that dish until I found the right sauce that matched it.”
Other popular items that remain on the menu from Tre Figlio include Spaghetti Giacomo ($18), diced homemade meatballs and hot peppers in marinara sauce served over homemade spaghetti; Veal Veneziana ($36) served Francaise style topped with crabmeat and sundried tomatoes in an alfredo sauce; and Lobster and Shrimp Venetian ($42) served Francaise style in a white wine sauce with a touch of cream.
However, Barreto and Seidel show their stuff, too.
“We started with some interesting specials that turned into customers asking for them to be on the menu, and that’s a great feeling,” Barreto says. “A lot of what we create can be found on our specials. We like doing specials with fish.”
One example is an Arctic char that will soon be on the new menu that is seared and served with cipollini onions in a cream sauce.
“And I just made an appetizer the other day with ravioli with ricotta, egg yolk and pancetta and cream, a rearranged carbonara,” Barreto says. “Instead, the egg yolk was inside the ravioli, and it broke when you cut into it. And people just loved it. That could make it on the new menu, too.”
Assaggio! has a little something for everyone, whether it’s the popular eggplant rollatini ($9), five styles of personal pizza ($9), homemade desserts ($6) such as flourless chocolate cake and ricotta cheesecake, four salads, two steaks, rack of lamb, stuffed pork chop, striped bass, blackened salmon and staples such as chicken and veal parm, as well as veal saltimbocca.
With a good team in place, Barreto’s leadership in the kitchen and Reyes overseeing everything — even if it means she works morning to midnight six days a week — Assaggio! doesn’t simply continue Tre Figlio’s legacy, it improves on it.
“I hope to fill all of these seats every night again,” Barreto says. “I have been in this building for a long time, and I saw it in its glory days when there was a line out the door, and I saw it at its lowest point before it sold. And I know we are moving to the point where people are talking about us again and there’s a lot of good buzz. We are well on our way to become the restaurant I know it can be.”
Music + happy hour
If you’re looking for a place to dine and enjoy live music simultaneously, Assaggio! is the place for you.
Starting 6 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, a rotation of great performers offer everything from guitar to piano to saxophone and more, including Jim Boney, Jim and Bonnie and Michael Marone.
Get there early for happy hour as Assaggio! offers great deals from 4 to 7 p.m. Mondays to Fridays, including cocktails discounted $2, $3 domestics, $5 house wines and a $5 bar menu that includes meatball parm, pizzas, calamari and more.