Looking for an Italian restaurant in North Jersey is like trying to find a Starbucks in midtown Manhattan. There’s one on every corner and most of them strive only for mediocrity.
Since moving to Bergen County, my wife and I have tried to choose our Italian meals wisely. There are a ton of options, so finding the really good ones becomes a challenge in itself. Granted, this is an often delicious challenge, but a challenge nonetheless.
The recommendations we’ve received have continually put us in towns to the north and south of our small haven of Waldwick. We’ve tried Italian in Ridgewood, Allentown and Ramapo. Nothing’s been bad, but nothing has really presented itself front and center as the best Italian food around.
And yet, every time we set out on another Italian adventure, we pass a little place in Waldwick called Andrea’s Ristorante Italiano. It sits in the middle of a fairly old-school (and fairly ugly) strip mall and is just about the most unassuming restaurant you could ever come across. I think that’s why we never gave it much thought.
Although there may not be much to look at, the food is ridiculously good! Having now gone twice, I can say that this is probably as close to perfect Italian food (the traditional, slightly Americanized version, at least) as I’ve ever come across in this area.
Both times we went, we started with mozzarella appetizers. The first, I believe called Mozzarella Fantasia, pared the oh-so-succulent fresh cheese with a medley of roasted vegetables, including peppers, artichokes, zucchini and asparagus. The second time, we ordered the mozzarella di bufala special, which featured even more buttery buffalo cheese, garnished with a few stalks of asparagus and some roasted peppers. Both plates were lightly spiced and drizzled with olive oil. Beautiful.
Over the course of the two visits, we got to know their pasta menu well, especially the gnocchi. These little potato nubs were delicate, yet chewy… a perfect consistency. Served plainly in Andreas’ standard red sauce (which was close to heaven itself), the gnocchi are the simplest of pleasures that make this place worth visiting just by themselves.
Our other samplings included a seafood ravioli special – three massive pasta pillows filled with shrimp, crab, lobster, cheese and spices served with a pink sauce – and my wife’s shrimp over linguine – featuring perfectly al dente pasta and a marinara sauce that nicely illustrated what marinara, and not tomato, sauce should be. (I just realized, I still owe you guys the recipe for that!)
By the way, before I get into more lavish praise, I will tell you that the place ain’t cheap. Meat entrees range from the mid twenties to upper thirties, while the pasta dishes run upwards of $20. Appetizers usually run $10 – $15.
What you get for that money, though, is impressive. Here’s the order of arrival:
- Small plate, usually two pieces of bruschetta
- Appetizer (if ordered)
- Small salad
- Sweets dish: chocolate covered bananas and mini biscottis
- Dessert (if ordered)
And besides all the free add-ons (1, 3, 5), it’s BYO! So you save some cash on the drinks, which I’m convinced is part of the reason why the food prices are so expensive. The other reason: people don’t mind paying more for consistently amazing food.
I know not many of you live in this area, or even anywhere near it, but if you have the occasion to try one Italian restaurant in North Jersey, make a reservation at Andrea’s.
It’s worth going out of your of way for.