Joe Leone's - Jersey Shore ( Point Pleasant)
The best thing about my parents retiring to the Jersey Shore is the proximity in which they live to the finest Italian deli / caterer / gourmet shop I've ever experienced. This place should be heralded as the Zabar's of the Jersey Shore and it's CIA-grad, namesake-owner Joe Leone (despite the fact that he's in his mere late 20s) already deserves Jersey-style commemoration alongside Whitman and Lombardi with his own Turnpike rest stop. Joe Leone's earnest, joyful, large-hearted approach to food is a pure antidote to the otherwise all-too-cynical Jersey Shore cusine scene.
Foremost: I love his daily-baked artisan breads and rolls. He's one of the few Italian bakers around who does "integrale" -- whole-wheat loaves and sandwich rolls -- and he does them better than even Zito's of NYC. Superb quality flours. About a dozen different bread offerings every day. Nancy Silverman, jump on the LAX-EWR red eye and bring your notepad.
The myriad delights at Mr. Leone's hot deli counter never fail to make my knees buckle. He's got all the classics you'd expect -- mouthwatering meatballs (better than my Genoa-born Noni Eleanor Testino's), zesty sausage and peppers -- but with lots of pleasant twists and surprises: his tomato salad features green zebra heirlooms; the pan-roasted garlic in his broccoli rabe is so perfectly golden and sweet you could eat it like candy... Every ingredient is top-quality, that-day fresh and expertly prepared. I dare you not to max out your credit card on this heavenly stuff.
There are also the cheeses, the deli meats, the deftly-chosed packaged import goods, his take-home pasta sauces (I just ate an entire pint of his marinara with a spoon) and -- oh yeah -- the desserts! Cookies, biscotti and my favorite -- the creamy-dreamy cannolis. Sigh.
Joe Leone's namesake operation is a small stripmall storefront at the northern tip of Ocean County's shoreline peninsula. 400 Route 35 S, Point Pleasant, 732-701-0001.
Happy eating, bring a picnic basket! And will those of you who already know please help me sing his praises?
Joe Leone's is indeed a pretty well-hidden place. It's located in a stripmall near the Pt. Pleasant train station, on the corner of Rte 35 South (Richmond Ave) and McLean Ave, just two blocks south of the Brielle Bridge. Enjoy!
PS They give you excellent recorded directions on their voicemail system -- 732-701-0001.