Dining in Central New Jersey generally offers a choice of Italian, Italian, and… oh, yes, Italian. There are plenty of take-out Chinese restaurants, many mediocre pizzerias, and a light sprinkling of other cuisines but the Italian offerings are overwhelming. So why is it next to impossible to find a decent Italian restaurant around here, especially since Trenton’s Chambersburg district lost its Little Italy identity? We don’t have the answer to that question but there’s no denying that, hard as we’ve tried, we have not found an Italian restaurant around here to call our own, something not very expensive or formal, but with solidly good food. Until we dined at Villa Barone.
Now don’t get us wrong. We’re not trying to sell Villa Barone as incredible, four-star dining. It’s a dependable, moderately priced BYOB Italian restaurant, in a room more conducive to pleasant dining than the side room of a pizzeria. As you nibble on the warm pizza rolls served with a plate of garlic oil, you may want to ask your waiter to bring a plate of the well-garlicked sautéed escarole with cannellini, suitable for splitting for two. It’s our favorite dish at Barone, juicy and just a touch spicy with greens that have retained a little crunch.
Among the homemade pastas are some beautiful pappardelle sauced with a chunky Bolognese, and handmade gnocchi, those potato dumpling/pasta hybrids, sauced either simply with tomato sauce and cheese, or luxuriously with a mascarpone cream sauce and spinach. They offer pastas as familiar as baked lasagna and baked ziti, or as fussed with as one special we particularly enjoyed, homemade green noodles dressed with a heady but light-bodied seafood sauce, garnished generously with sea scallops, large shrimp, and lump crabmeat. At $30 it was more expensive than anything else on the menu (be sure to ask about the cost of the specials, if you care) but it was worth every penny.
Main courses include Veal Cassandrio, with brocoli rabe, roasted peppers, and smoked mozzarella, or veal & figs with asparagus, shiitake, and Frangelico cream sauce. Don’t want all that froufrou? Don’t worry, you’ll also find chicken or veal prepared Parmigiana, Francaise, Picatta, or Marsala-style on the menu. There’s another dish that we’ve yet to try here but we’d always loved in the old Italian restaurants of Trenton: Pork Chops Giambotta. A pair of chops is topped with peppers and onions and chunks of crusty, roasted potatoes. It’s winter food, and next on our hit list.
Is there dessert? Probably. If you have enough appetite left to try them, please let us know how they are!38 Robbinsville Allentown Road Robbinsville NJ 08691 609-357-4712 Villa Barone’s Website Villa Barone of Facebook Checking in at: 12/3/14 Checking in at: 1/2/15 Checking in at: 10/15/17