Any restaurant which starts you off with homemade bread this good is okay in my book. I had heard about Nonna’s for years. People rave about them, but that is mainly directed at their family-style dinners. It may be a misconception that family dinners are all that Nonna’s serves. They actually have a full ala carte menu in addition to that. In addition, a very sleek, rustic bar area makes this a place where you can have anything from drinks and appetizers to a full-scale, multi-course mega meal. I can only speak for the ala carte menu right now, but given the opportunity to try the more renown family-style, I would do it. The food here is fresh, authentic, and packed with flavor. Oh, and you cannot forget the portion size. It’s as if there truly is an Italian nonna cooking for you in the back.
A few moments after sitting down, you are given a basket with a loaf of bread. It is hot, crusty on the outside, fluffy in the middle, and may be the best starter you could ask for. Next comes a four-section dish containing plain olive oil, a spicy, seasoned olive oil, eggplant caponata, and a ball of butter. Forgive me for skipping the fancy stuff and going right for the butter, but it is one of life’s simple pleasures when spread on top of such bread. I knew right then and there I would enjoy Nonna’s. If there is such a high quality in something they give you for free, one could only wonder what was to come.
My parents shared a Sicilian Salad, which was arugula, fennel, shaved cheese, pine nuts, and orange slices with a citrus vinaigrette. It was so large, they actually gave me some which filled my entire dish. There was still plenty to go around. Meanwhile, Will and I split the “Mozzarella Popcorn”. These simple balls of mozzarella coated in pesto bread crumbs and lightly fried were little pockets bursting with flavor. The creaminess of the stringy cheese, the crunch of the bread crumbs, and the combination of seasoning all hit you at once. The dish came with sides of marinara and an excellent roasted pepper aioli, which was reminiscent of a Chipotle mayo. At first glance, I thought it seemed out of place, but it worked amazingly well. It was out-of-this-world delicious—even better when washed down with a cold Peroni.
Our meals were as follows: my mom had the lobster mac and cheese (her third time ordering that in three visits—it’s that good), my dad got the shrimp risotto, Will went with the Nonna’s salad, and I had the rigatoni with shrimp and chicken. No complaints from anyone. My portion size was massive. There must have been over a dozen baby shrimp, and an equal amount of chicken pieces. The spinach was wilted perfectly when tossed with the pasta and a luscious Fontina and Parmesan cream sauce. As if it needed anything else, the pasta was speckled with decent-sized pieces of prosciutto. I was unable to finish it, and I always finish pasta dishes. Will’s salad was more meat than lettuce. An impressive stacking of meats, cheese, olives, peppers, and other veggies in a vinaigrette. It was like an antipasti on steroids.
Overall, you cannot ask for a better first experience at a restaurant. Places like this always seem to disappoint me, because when there is so much hype, you go in expecting to be blown away. But that’s not the case here. They started off on the right foot with the bread and it carried right through the service and drinks (they have Peroni on tap), and finally, on to the entrees. Then there is the unbeatable, rustic, almost Tuscan-like atmosphere: stone and brick walls, fireplaces, and dim lights. I will give Nonna’s 4.5 out of 5 stars for those reasons.
Nonna’s Citi Cucina is located at 190 Route-9 North in Englishtown, New Jersey.