Taormina, the mesmerizing European tourist destination on the northeast coast of Sicily is a traveler’s must. Strolling Corso Umberto the main (pedestrian) road in a town hanging off a cliff, the sea makes for an awestruck view and life takes on new meaning. In what proved to be the favorite meal in an impeccable trip, Osteria Nero D’Avola so named for the most important indigenous grape to the island, backed murmurings that Sicilian cuisine was the best on the boot. Navigating a short diversion from the welcome commotion, this restaurant was tucked away and guarded by a natural setting. First came locally baked bread and breadsticks with a selection of locally pressed olive oils. One drew a connection to this blog, olives produced by a Dr. Salvatore Foti. The wine list was a selection of the proprietor’s personal favorites. With a platter of meat and cheese that cannot be described with merely words alone, we dined on pasta, a mix tray of grilled meat and spoke about the obvious influence Sicilian cuisine has had on the Italian food found in America. Wish it had some effect on what we find in our local gas stations and other quick stops – the food quality no less than a restaurant!
Favorite restaurant: Casa Filippo, Caldwell
Everything chef/owner makes is cooked flawlessly. Ingredients are handpicked and enhanced by proper preparation; flavors not created by an overabundance of garlic and spices. It’s a cozy setting in a renovated apartment that rewards restaurant goers with fine Italian cuisine. Each dish will get you thinking – is this the best execution of this dish I’ve ever had?
Favorite pizzeria: Bivio, Little Falls
It starts with a masterfully crafted wood-burning oven that cooks pizza in less than 2 minutes. Building from the dough and layering with San Marzano tomatoes, mushrooms, sausage or whatever the day’s specialty is offering, these authentic Neapolitan pies come with a crispy exterior and a brilliant combination of sweet and salty, nicely spiced topping. It’s a really cute place and the pizzas are great.
Favorite café: Palazzone 1960, Wayne
In business for just over a month (in America) and already this bakery/café/luncheon is making its name known outside of Italy. You enter to a marvelous display of pastries made fresh from completely imported ingredients. Order an espresso, cappuccino, or specialty coffee drink to accompany a fresh cornetto for breakfast, which is hard to find around here. Or stay for lunch; their pastas are simple yet delicious and perfectly al dente.
Favorite bar: Vesta’s Wood-Fired Pizza & Bar, East Rutherford
Peroni on tap served in branded glasses at a vibrant, ultra-modern venue. There are plenty of TV’s to watch the games and each day has its own drink special. It’s a great place to enjoy happy hour but also for a nice meal too. Choices on the menu take creative liberties with the old classics and pizzas are as the name implies, wood-fired.
If you’re like me Christmas Eve is the most anticipated day of the year. This is the time we spend awaiting Christ’s birth and is commemorated with the Feast of the Seven Fishes, La Vigilia Di Natale. Seven is significant in that it represents the wait for the birth of Christ at midnight, and why it’s followed by midnight mass. Eating seafood at this meal is grounded in the Roman Catholic refrain from meat on Wednesdays, Fridays, during Lent, and on the eve of holy days. It’s a tradition brought from southern Italy and baccalà (salted codfish) is the staple serving, inexpensive for a historically poorer region. Add it all up – Italian cooking, seafood, good times with close friends and family, and the celebration of faith; enjoy these special times and have a very Merry Christmas.
What’s great about A&A Fine Foods is that they carry everything. Growing out of and directly from the tradition that Anthony Scicchitano founded with A&S Pork Store in Brooklyn 1948 and familiar to us with outposts in the area, A&A is a butcher shop first with a showcase of fine cut meats, fresh fish, and stacked sandwiches. The store also carries bakery items, cheeses, and imported products, but what makes it remarkable is their enormous specialty catering available beyond even the daily-prepared foods. The menu encompasses everything you could possibly think of for a party: hot entrees, sandwich trays, antipasti. Plus they have special menus for all the year’s holidays so if you need something for Christmas, get your order in 5 days before.
A&A Fine Foods – 191 Main Street, Lincoln Park, NJ