At Nonno’s Ristorante in Bradley Beach

Originally published at  http://www.eatalongtheshore.com on June 8, 2015.

Last night was my first visit to Nonno’s Ristorante in Bradley Beach and assuredly it will not be my last. This BYOB bistro on the corner of Main and 4th is in a completely renovated location. The façade of the building as well as the interior is stylishly urban and contemporary in design.

As soon as we arrived, we were greeted by a hostess who, we found out later, was the “wife and mother” of the owners, as she humbly referred to herself. She showed us to our window table, making sure we were comfortable with our seating, and told us the name of our server. Samantha arrived seconds later. She was very pleasant and upbeat and the four of us bonded with her immediately. She explained the night’s specials and answered some of the questions we had without hesitation. She opened our wine and brought an ice bucket which rested conveniently on the window ledge. It did not take us long to decide on our choices because we were all here to try the homemade pasta that we had read about.

Let me begin by saying to the many Yelpers and other online reviewers, homemade pasta is not supposed to taste like dried pasta. Nor is it supposed to taste like factory made fresh pasta. It is a unique creation and Nonno’s does it flawlessly. Linguine is cut into thin ribbons and is supposed to be square with a highly textured surface for carrying sauce. Rigatoni should hold its tubular shape and have a little chew to it with sauce holding rigati or ridges. Cavatelli is made from ricotta cheese and should be soft and fluffy and never “al dente.” (Are we ever going to stop throwing that term around?)  All of those criteria were met perfectly at Nonno’s.

We were first provided some crusty Tuscan style bread with some ricotta cheese to spread and a drop of pesto with which to add olive oil for dipping. Notably, the olive oil bottle was spotlessly clean unlike some that come full of previous users fingerprints. You are handling the bottle and handling the bread. Think about it.

We all shared an order of tender fried calamari which was lightly fried as it should be. I opted for the Linguine fra Diavlo which was dish of plump sweet mussels in red sauce with some heat from chili pepper, over the homemade linguine. The linguine was perfectly cooked and picked up the sauce very well as it was pulled from it’s hiding place beneath the mussels. Don’t get me wrong there was more than enough. My wife shared with me, her Cime de Rapa which was homemade Cavatelli with broccoli rabe, sausage and parmigiana. The cavatelli was light and tender as they should be. Our one friend had the rigatoni Bolognese which I also was given the opportunity to try. The sauce was a pleasant change from the hamburger and marinara served in many Italian restaurants, touted as Bolognese. This is a ragout made with the trinity of carrots, celery and onions simmered with beef and tomatoes. It had good depth of flavor. The house made rigatoni held its shape and was still slightly firm as it should be. Our other friend had the same rigatoni except with with vodka sauce and grilled chicken. He gave it very high marks. Both rigatoni portions were large enough where some came home. Another big hit with all of us was a side order of Sicilian meatballs which, unlike traditional meatballs, contain pignoli and raisins. They were fabulous.  We ended our very enjoyable dinner by sharing a piece of Sicilian cheesecake, which is a crust-free, velvety creation that seemed to have just a hint of almond or Amaretto. It was so subtle that I am not certain. I am certain that it was delicious and I wished I had my own slice.

It takes more than good food to create a memorable restaurant experience. It is the service, the pace, and the ambiance also. Nonno’s Ristorante excelled in all of those areas. Our server Samantha was friendly, personable and attentive. You could see that she had a lot of experience and training. The “mother” also visited our table to ensure we were happy and content. Also the server’s assistant was polite and timely. We never felt rushed, a feeling that has driven me from some otherwise excellent establishments. The white tablecloths and stylish design of the space prompted great expectations which were met on all fronts.

My Wish List

If I would make a wish list for Nonno’s, I would wish that they would make their linguine with clams with whole littlenecks, garlic, white wine and parsley and nothing more, in the simple classic tradition. The flavor imparted by the brine from clams opening in the pan can’t be improved upon. Added to the homemade linguine it would be an out of the park hit. This is the Jersey Shore and chopped clams give the impression that they come from a can, whether or not they do. Add butter and the dish becomes corrupted even more. It was my first choice and a benchmark I use.  I was very disappointed when I asked how it was made here. I make it at home so it is no big deal. Another wish I would have is that the sausage in the Cime di Rapa would have been removed from the casing and incorporated with the dish, rather than the nickel sized slices that become tough and reminiscent of pizza topping. One last wish would be that the olive oil for dipping had more character. It was lacking in that desirable flowery quality. These are merely personal opinions and not to meant to reflect poorly.

It is obvious to me that the co-owners Johnny Falco and executive chef Nick Falco, a CIA graduate, strive constantly to fine tune the operation of Nonno’s. This is reflected in all areas.

We have added Nonno’s Ristorante to our regular rotation of restaurants after a “beautiful song” down the street hit some very sour notes. The next time we return I am going to explore the Entrata section of the menu. I also need to try the “pizza gain” (pizza rustica) appetizer. I rarely see that anywhere except during Easter. I greatly anticipate my next visit to Nonno’s Ristorante.