EAST HANOVER — Over the past few months, I have had the opportunity to visit and highlight several exceptional local Italian restaurants, along with their Chefs. As you travel just over the Parsippany border into neighboring East Hanover, we are fortunate to have yet another outstanding example of that food genre, and another stand-out Chef, to add to our list, Pucciarello’s Italian Kitchen.
In 2017 Chef Anthony Pucciarello, together with the talented and personable Donna Fallon, decided to bring their combined extensive, culinary experience and talents to Pucciarello’s Italian Kitchen, located near the intersection of Route 10 West on Ridgedale Avenue in East Hanover. For 19 years prior to that, you may remember the location, as the former site of Breanna’s Italian Restaurant. I have dined at Pucciarello’s several times in the past, so I am basing this review, not only with this visit but with all those past experiences in mind.
Every great Chef I have ever met, who proved to be a passionate, creative, artist, also came along with a great backstory. It is no different from the impressive, likable, genuine, and energetic Chef Anthony Pucciarello. The Chef’s story starts in his Italian grandparent’s house on a dead-end street, in an Italian American enclave in Belleville, whereas a child, he would be surrounded with a sense of his Italian culture, family values, homemade pasta, wine, and plenty of delicious, traditional Italian food. At the early age of 9, with the support and encouragement of his family, he learned enough to be able to create some of his own meals. At age 10 he got a job at a local pizzeria where he was hired to fold pizza boxes for $10 a week. Then, at 17, he was hired, by circumstance, as a cook at a local neighborhood restaurant. It is not hard to see what this was leading to; cooking was obviously in young Anthony’s blood!
More formal training followed, with a degree at the prestigious C.I.A. (Culinary Institute of America) and FDU, where he achieved a BS in Hotel/Restaurant Management. A stint as a Sous Chef at the Tropicana in Las Vegas followed, before returning home. After taking a couple of jobs at several highly rated Manhattan restaurants his extensive culinary and management knowledge and skills became evident, and his recognition as a top Chef continued to grow, especially during his tenure as Executive Chef at Papillion in Nutley, then Luce in Caldwell, and in 2012, his first restaurant, Cielo in Fairfield.
Of course, Chef Pucciarello continued to learn and hone his craft during these great experiences, all of which have led to Chef Pucciarello and Donna Fallon opening the doors to their new restaurant in 2017. Both owners take great pride in the fact that their restaurant is built on integrity, comfort, family values, customer service, and most of all on ‘respect for the ingredient’, and of course, the customer, many of whom are considered family. It would be remiss if I did not note that Pucciarello’s strives to serve only the finest fresh Italian food, utilizing the freshest seasonal and local ingredients available.
The ambiance of the inviting interior of Pucciarello’s is warm, cozy, and stylish. Providing a relaxing atmosphere that is welcoming and elegant, while still casual enough to be extremely comfortable. The décor throughout is bright, beautiful, and classy, with nicely separated tables, all expertly appointed and dressed in white linen tablecloths, sparkling glassware, and thoughtfully placed silverware. And, as must be noted, the restaurant appeared amazingly clean, with all current COVID health requirements being strictly adhered to. Immediately following our seating, our water glasses were filled, our BYOB wine was uncorked, and fresh, hot, crusty, bread, along with a complimentary Eggplant Caponata appeared; a delicious, sweet, and sour, mouthwatering, roasted eggplant spread, with garlic, onion, tomato and more, mixed in olive oil, that could serve as quite a meal on its own. The service was impeccable, prompt, friendly, attentive, and professional. The extensive, two-page, carefully prepared menu, which reflects both Northern and Southern authentic Italian dishes, listed one delectable choice after another, along with the Chef’s nightly specialties. Many creative, innovative, amazing dishes, as well as many of those wonderful, unpretentious, feel-good comfort foods that bring back fond, nostalgic memories.
Our appetizers included the Petite Filet Mignon Meatballs; juicy, tasty, perfectly prepared, and seasoned petite meatballs, served with Italian long hot peppers, house-made crispy potatoes chips, olive oil & garlic broth; Homemade Sweet Sausage; pan sauteed sausage, served with Italian long hot peppers, broccoli rabe, house-made potato chips, garlic, and olive oil; and Shrimp Beeps, a Jersey classic, which consisted of pan-seared shrimp served in a medium spicy marinara sauce. Ample-sized portions so we were all able to share and enjoy each of the selections.
For an entrée I decided on the Veal Medallions; tender, delectable, delicate, cuts of velvety-textured veal, pan-roasted, and topped with prosciutto di parma, placed on top of a bed of spinach, and topped with fresh, melted mozzarella & shallots, in a sherry wine sauce. The veal, which I could easily cut with my fork, was as moist, savory, and delicious as it looked. My friends decided on the Daily Specials. Garlic Shrimp: served with the Chef’s signature garlic sauce, served over a spring pea risotto; and the Veal Parm Twist; which consisted of breaded veal cutlets, topped with sausage, ricotta, mozzarella & marinara sauce. By all accounts, everyone thoroughly enjoyed their meals and found their individual dishes to be flavorful and satisfying.
Finished with a Cappuccino and a sweet, decadent, Banana Foster Cake, consisting of double layers of Banana Walnut Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting. The combination of flavors was delicious, and how could you go wrong with a dessert made up of bananas, rum, and caramel. I have had traditional Banana Foster many times, but never as a cake.
I would not turn it down if offered again. Other desserts included the Tartufo, which came with chocolate, vanilla, and pumpkin hazelnut filling; and a Chocolate Peanut Swirl Brownie, topped with vanilla ice cream.
Thank you to Chef Anthony Pucciarello, Donna Fallon, and the staff at Pucciarello’s Italian Kitchen for a pleasant, satisfying, and delicious dining experience, and for taking the time to make us feel like part of the family. I would certainly recommend putting this one on your list of outstanding local area Italian restaurants.
And as always, please try to come out and help support all our local, small independent businesses in any way you can.
BYOB, Off-Road Parking Lot, Dine In, Take Out. Closed Monday.
Pucciarello’s Italian Kitchen is located at 34 Ridgedale Avenue, East Hanover. Phone: (973) 530-4100. Click here to view the website.
Congrats to Anthony and Donna for such a great write up. If you’re not comfortable dining in yet, they do a fantastic job at take out! The veal parm and veal medallions are meals to die for. No knife needed! #supportlocalbusinesses