This was originally posted in June of 2011. I’ve added some new photos and raised it to the top given the restaurant’s recent review by Elisa Ung in the Bergen Record.
Amici Family Restaurant
127 S. Washington Ave. (Entrance and Parking on East Clinton Ave.)
Bergenfield, NJ 07621
Those who are familiar with this blog understand that I have a love/hate relationship with Italian-American cuisine.
As I have said on previous posts, while this is an area of culinary specialization that Northern New Jersey is particularly known for, that doesn’t mean that we do it particularly well.
When people ask me “What Italian restaurant or what Pizza do you like to eat at in Bergen County” I usually say “None, I go to the Bronx and eat on Arthur Avenue.“
The reasons for this are numerous, but it comes down to the fact that the Italian-American restaurant and pizzeria as it is represented in this part of Jersey is usually pretty awful. SYSCO tomato sauce, cheap commercial mozzarella and tired owners that no longer care about the food they are making anymore. That about sums it up.
Forget about what you’ve seen on the Sopranos, Italian-American food in Northeast Bergen County is uniformly mediocre.
And thus explains why it is difficult for a restaurant that serves this kind of food to distinguish itself. You rarely see these neighborhood places written up in the Bergen Record or the New York Times because Pizza places and red sauce joints are a dime a dozen.
Sure, you might get the occasional gem like Di Palma Brothers (which is actually in Hudson County in North Bergen) or a solid pizzeria like Lodi Pizza, Trattoria Sorrentina (again, North Bergen) or Bartolomeo in Englewood but these are rarities.
It’s nearly impossible to get me into a new Italian-American restaurant or a pizzeria, because I’m expecting right from the start that it’s going to suck.
So when I saw that the aging, failing Terrana in Bergenfield — which never produced more than just serviceable Italian-American food and was a restaurant we avoided eating at for the 10 years we’ve been residents of nearby Tenafly — was being taken over by new owners and being re-launched as Amici Family Restaurant, my interest was piqued.
I’m willing to try a new Italian place at least once, especially if it’s just five minutes from my house. If it was bad, I just wouldn’t go back, just as I have done with 90 percent of the ones I’ve been to in the immediate area.
Amici Family Restaurant looks like a typical red sauce joint that serves average pizza from the outside. Don’t make the mistake of passing it by. Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more.
Raymond Novini, the head pizzaiolo and Amici’s manager. Ray and his family did a complete renovation of the restaurant, including the kitchen, which needed major work after the previous owner left it.
I’ve gotten to know Ray over the last two visits and I can tell you this is a man who makes zero compromises with his food. He only buys top-notch ingredients and is an utter perfectionist. So when he tells me that he and his family have put their lives into this restaurant I believe him.
Amici’s gas-fired brick oven, which was brought back to life from Terrana’s sheer neglect. The previous owner never used it, having bought the establishment from yet another owner, and instead used a electric oven in the kitchen to make his pizzas.
Now the revived brick oven is running full blast and is baking some of the best pizza I’ve eaten in Northeast Bergen County in a very, very long time.
Ray working the dough.
Into the oven.
Exhibit A, the plain Margherita Pie. AP flour? Nope. Amici uses Italian Doppio Zero “00” flour, the very same highly-refined almost talcum-like in consistency stuff used in Naples. Low moisture shredded mozzarella? Fuhgeddaboudit. This place ONLY uses fresh mozzarella. Sauce? No commercial SYSCO or Redpack or HFCS-laced garbage here. Only imported Italian tomatoes.
Now, make no mistake, these are not the kind of “Authentic” fully-certified pizze napoletano that a place like A Mano in Ridgewood used to make, but failed miserably to market to Americans. This is kick-ass American-style pizza, with Italian tweaks. The kind of pizza you love.
The pies at Amici are a single size — twelve inches. No small pies, no large pies. Twelve inch pies. Period. And it costs a whole nine bucks. Crazy, right?
See how happy this guy is? If I had access to that kind of pizza every waking moment of my day, I’d have a sunny disposition too.
Look. I mean just look… at… that.
Think about what that thing smells like.
Main Dining Room
While I would definitely classify Amici’s pizza as “gourmet” the target audience is definitely family-friendly.
A bottle of the fizzy stuff, my standard Italian restaurant drink.
Fresh-baked Garlic Knots and Foccacia. Oh yes.
This is a special Calamari appetizer that was introduced after Elisa Ung’s Bergen Record Review — fried squid with tomato, basil, scallions and a balsamic vinegar reduction.
Zuppa de Pesce, which is clams, scallops, mussels and shrimp. This one is in a tomato sauce but you can also get it in a Fra Diavolo (spicy) or white wine with garlic.
“Bruschetta” Pizza, which is chopped fresh tomatoes, chopped fresh mozzarella, red onions, green peppers, banana peppers, basil, garlic, and house vinaigrette dressing. This one is a definite winner, although very different from the other pizzas at Amici.
I’d recommend sharing this as an appetizer with a bunch of people.
Contadina Pizza, with Lettuce, Tomato, Onion and Italian Vinigrette.
Contadina with shaved Fontina Cheese (Closeup)
Arancini, deep-fried stuffed risotto balls. A special that evening.
Big stuffed roasted red pepper appetizer, ordered by another patron. This is filled with prosciutto di Parma, portobello mushroom and mozzarella cheese, baked with mozzarella cheese on top and drizzled with a balsamic glaze.
Crabmeat and Asparagus Risotto.
Ray prepping a pie, the “Quattro Gusti”.
A pizza getting some air time.
The “Quattro Gusti” with ham, fresh tomatoes and artichoke hearts.
The upskirt. This baby got crust char. And so crispy thin. I don’t recommend you take out pizzas at Amici, by all means go there to eat them. They’re really the best when right out of the oven and don’t lend well to reheating. If you take some home, eat it at room temperature.
A white pie, with fresh mozzarella and creamy ricotta cheese. Get this one with garlic.
Another view of the white pie “Pizza Bianca”
Another type of white pie offered at Amici, the Quattro Formaggi, or Four Cheeses. Mozzarella, Fresh Ricotta, Sweet Provolone and Fontina. Saltier, sharper than the Pizza Bianca. I’d order this with some sun-dried tomatoes on top as an extra topping.
Quattro Formaggi slice.
Veal Amici. Breaded veal cutlets topped with a generous salad of arugula, diced tomato, red onions, hot & sweet peppers and fresh mozzarella cheese. Nice and crispy veal, refreshing salad, and an ideal summer plate. A nice change up from most typical Italian-American restaurant veal dishes.
This is a dish I ordered on my first visit to see if this place was serious or not. Ragu de Macellaio, or “Sunday Gravy” over rigatoni. There’s nothing more red sauce Italian joint than this dish.
It is the definitive, ne plus ultra red sauce Italian-American dish.
And you know what? At Amici it is ‘friggin awesome.
By all means, order this dish, especially if you are really hungry, want something hearty and are craving pasta. A big giant and moist meatball, perfect texture, flanked by two big hot and sweet Italian sausages and a pork rib.
This is the real deal folks. What more could you possibly want from a dish like this?
Butternut Squash ravioli with sun dried tomatoes in a butter sauce. A special that evening. Rather than making it in-house, Amici buys its fresh pasta from Star Ravioli in Moonachie, so it’s local product. We thought it was excellent.
This was another fresh pasta dish, stuffed “Fagottini” beggars purses with Gorgonzola cheese and walnuts in a mushroom cream sauce. Outrageous.
Stuffed Chicken breast entree special
Stuffed Chicken Breast entree closeup
Stuffed Pork Chop with Gravy with a similar preparation. The pork chop was nice and juicy, clearly marinaded in some kind of brine. Both the pork and the vegetables were cooked perfectly. Bravo.
A peek at the dessert case. Amici uses desserts by Bindi. I’ve got nothing against Bindi as I think as commercial dessert suppliers go, they’re probably one of the best out there, but a lot of Italian restaurants in New Jersey use them.
However, on the night we visited, they also had some desserts made by some local people as well, so double check when you go.
Here’s one of Amici’s new home made desserts — a fresh Apple crumble with ice cream.
Cappuccino, a nice ending to a great evening.