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Feb 15, 2008 05:59 AM

Italian New Jersey?

Am headed to Fort Lee tomorrow to pick up my new triathlon bike - my girlfriend and I thought it would be a great opportunity to find a good red sauce Italian restaurant to enjoy (we live in Manhattan). I've tried searching but the search is diluted with Italian Hot Dogs and I don't know the towns around Fort Lee that well. We are more than willing to drive for great Italian and would love to make a bit of an adventure out of it. La Campagna seems like a decent but would enjoy hearing other suggestions.


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  1. If you want truly great Italian and are willing to travel approximately 25-30 minutes from the GWB, the place to go to is:

    LuNello's in Cedar Grove. It's fine dining Italian and it is the only place I ever recommend for special occasions and or entertain business clients or associates. It's my favorite restaurant in Northern New Jersey. It's an easy drive out Interstate Route 80 West to State Highway 23 South, near Willowbrook Mall.

    Near Fort Lee, for fine dining there is Villa Amalfi in Cliffside Park. I have not been to in recent years, but it is generally well regarded in the area for many years. A little further south on Kennedy Boulevard in North Bergen, there is Di Palma Brothers. This is an old school red sauce Rustic Family Italian Restaurant. If you go to Jason Perlow's Off The Broiler site, hit the New Jersey Link and he has some excellent high resolution pictures for you to view. Di Palma's is also BYOB and the portions are huge...sharing is expected.

    If you are truly adventurous, Laico's on Terhune in Jersey City is my pick over Di Palma's. Both are very good, but Laico's is like no other. It set in the middle of a side street. Great Rustic Italian and they make their own bread served with a family style house salad. I recommend their Veal Chop and Paglia E Fieno with Lobster and Shrimp, shared as an appetizer.

    1. Food for thought.....

      La Campagna is in Morristown, but I will assume you mean La Campania, located in Fair Lawn of Kitchen Nightmare's fame. Bill Pitcher, the condescending food critic of The Bergen Record has a hate affair with Gordon Ramsey, but a love affair with Joe of La Campania. I personally do not know anyone who has been to La Campania and walked away being wowed in any way. In fact, just the opposite........more like been there, done that.

      5 Replies
      1. re: fourunder

        No, I meant the one in Morristown - is that really far away from Fort Lee?

        Lacios sounds like the way to go though!

        1. re: wingman


          Morristown is 25-30 miles and 45-50 minutes from the GWB-Fort Lee area. It's out Interstate 80 West to Interstate 287 South. Morristown is another 15 minutes past Willowbrook Mall. If you are willing to venture out that far, another 10 minutes will put you in Chatham Township where there is Scalini Fedeli, a top rated restaurant in New Jersey. I personally prefer LuNello's and their is a SF outpost in Manhattan, so unless your into the country house theme, I see no reason to travel so far.

          Again, LuNello's in my opinion is the place to go. Being you are from NYC, do not let any naysayers scare you about pricing. Like anywhere else, you get what you pay for. It's only expensive if you consume lots of alcohol or bottle wine. The drinks may be $10-12 each, but they are triples, a very nice drink and you would never find that in Manhattan or anywhere else for that matter.

          Laico's and Di Palma Brothers are places that fascinate me. Laico's is going on 40 years and I believe DP's is going near 70 years.........there must be something positive to say about that much history and surviving. these are both places that are thriving, not just existing. For either of these places, if they were located in California, I would take the time to seek them out. Just great rustic food without any fanfare. Although I prefer Laico's in general because it has full liquor and wine service, DP's has a more modern flair with their appetizers, even though the family recipes are older. I find greatness in both of these places for their simplicity.......less is more and only quality ingredients. If you spend more than $70 at either place for food only, you are an animal.....At DP's, expect to bring home a big doggy bag if you order two entrees and two appetizers. To give you an example, if you were to order simple Milanese cutlets, they serve four for one around $19.

          1. re: fourunder


            Is the style of food similar at Di Palma and Laicos (couldn't find a menu for Laicos). The pictures on off the broiler for Di Palma are fantastic and that rustic italian-american type food is just what my stomach ordered! From your favorite dish at Laicos sounds like it but just wanted to confirm. Also, which has better Gnocci?

            1. re: wingman


              Laico's is individual servings. Pasta, Steaks, Chicken Cutlet and Cut -Up Chicken, Pounded Veal, Pork Chops, Shrimp and Fish. I cannot ever remember them serving something like an Osso Buco, but I would defer to others.

              Most dishes are traditional favorites like Parm, Francese, Marinara and Fra Diavolo, If you were to order say Linguini with White Clam Sauce, it has always been served to me on with a dozen of Whole Little Neck Clams in shells and never with chopped clams. The same would hold true for Baked Clams or Casino. The specials list usually includes a Pork Tenderloin and a handful of Filet Fish selections. The food selections are hearty and rustic. Semi- Grandma-ish.

              Di Palma's is more eccentric. You are literally dining inside an Antique Shop, with all antique items for sale. Dining here is like going to Grandma's house. The staff is family and service is not a priority...which is not a problem for me. The food comes out when it is ready from the kitchen. You may never see the person taking your order until after the food comes out. It's a very relaxed atmospher where clocks do not exist. The busboys are attentive to any request, so if you want bread, they get you bread. If you need water, they bring you water. For me, it makes me a happy camper.

              I must warn you that not all the items are prepared freshly to order. DP's also has a wine shop and delicatessen up the road in Fairview very near the restaurant. It's like an ultimate Italian Food Store. I suspect they cook food for both places, so there is some over-lap. The items in the restaurant are prepared earlier in the day and set out for display under/behind glass. The food looks incredible. Arancini Rice Balls, Portobellos, Stuffed Zucchini, Eggplant, Eggplant Meatballs. Peppers of all Colors, meatballs and Sausages, the Cutlets, the Shrimp........I know I want it all........Is it the best way to store food....the answer is definitely not...but I have never gotten sick and it doesn't bother me. Again, I am fascinated by restaurants that serve generations of families and this place is a blast back into time. I wish it was closer to my home.

              Now to answer your question.....they are both similar in cooking, i.e., old school red sauce Italian.....Laico's is incredible to me for where the location actually sits. Both places are in old neighborhoods where you need patience to find street parking....especially for newbies. Once inside, both places are a little old and dark.......Laico's is all restaurant. DP's is more comfortable and roomy.....a place to linger and not as loud.

              I tell my friends to judge an Italian Restaurant based on a simple dish....Chicken Parmigiana. If they can't make this good, they probably cannot make anything else good either. At Laico's last time I noticed, they gave you two whole breasts attached but pounded somewhat to about a half inch thickness. At DP's, they take two breast, sliced in half and pounded thin into four pieces, due to their preparation style of Family dining and sharing. both are good, both red sauces are minimalistic and not cooked to death. I enjoy both, but I probably enjoy Laico's version better.......more moist and I do not have to share.

              Dining at Laico's you will feel you are in a restaurant.....Dining at DP's you may feel like you are at someone's home or Grandma's.

              In gambling's a Pick'em.

              Gnocchi......I am not a fan and always feel like I am eating bubble gum, but based on my best guess, it is is offered for the day....DP's would be my best guess. They seem to do more homestyle and may be more apt to make it in house. I do not know if either place actually makes their own pasta. A call to either restaurant may be prudent if you need the final answer for yourself.

              I hate to beat a dead I will give you full disclosure...I am friends with the owners at Lu Nello's and it is the only place I do eat gnocchi out.......Louie has a pasta maker come in daily and his gnocchi is like eating pillows of flavor. This time of year, he also makes a wonderful Sweet Potato Gnocchi..........but this is a fine dining place to be saved for a more memorable evening.

          2. re: wingman

            Skip La Campagna. IMO it's not very good Italian. If you want to come to Morristown for "red sauce", then try Guerriero's Cucina Napoletana. It's a few doors from LaCampagna on South St. The food tastes like what everyone's Italian grandmother used to make. Three caveats : it's BYO; 2) always crowded in the evening 3) cash only - no credit cards.

        2. Di Palma Brothers in North Bergen. Hands down. Just look for it on my blog at and have a look at all the photos. NY Times reviewer David Corcoran loved it.

          I have attached two photos here, one of their Seafood Pasta Al Cartoccio and also a shot of their dining room, which is absolutely wall to wall with antiques. Its a nice place and an excellent value, portions are huge and not at all difficult to split entrees and appetizers.

          1. If you do go to Laico's (parking stinks around there) you must try the fettuccini alfredo. My girlfriend (now wife) told me about it and I said "How good could it be"? It was so good, I married her! Chicken Francese is also incredible. Oh I'll be honest, everything is good.

            1. I agree with fourunder. Lu Nello's is absolutely the best Italian restaurant in NJ. I moved from NY and it has been difficult to find quality food prepared well. It can seem overwhelming but the specials are usually the way to go. You won't regret it,

              2 Replies
              1. re: amuselucy


                Great posts and descriptions of these restaurants! I rarely eat out (except for hot dog joints) and haven't been to anyplace mentioned, but my wife has been to Laico's and loved it. A friend of hers who has gone for years took her and she brought home food. I had some leftovers and they tasted better than any Italian food I've had. Admittedly, I haven't been to many Italian restaurants, but this food was so good, I made a mental note to go for dinner some time. I had since forgotten, but this thread reminded me. I live fairly close to Scalini Fedeli in Chatam. Never been there, but people I know rave about it

                1. re: hotdoglover


                  The first time I attempted to try and eat at Laico's, many years ago, I had exactly two dollars in my pocket so I thought. At the time I owned a coin operated business and it was before the advent of ATM's. I had thousands of dollars in coins in my van, but I could not bring myself to pay for a meal in quarters.......luckily, after finding and the Emergency C-Note in my wallet and the Girlfriend finding her Emergency Jackson, we felt reasonably comfortable to venture in for the meal and I have been hooked ever since. My original meal was the Rib Veal Chop and the Paglia E Fieno. I remember it like it was yesterday, and the original original prices were $15.50 and $9.95 respectfully. What a bargain. Back then they used to keep homemade flavored vodka too.

                  My next trip was even more incredible.........I was out doing my rounds in Newark and Jersey City when the weather turned and an unexpected blizzard moved a very short amount of time a significant amount of snow had accumulated, I'd say near six inches......Since the roads were crazy for me to head back to North Jersey, I decided to go(again with the GF) to Laico's to weather the storm......After finding parking and walking towards the restaurant......We could not see any footprints in the snow and I thought we were going to have to turn around and go home, but much to my delight the lights were on and we ventured in only to find the place full.....when we asked for a table for two.......the elderly waitress said it would be about an hour!