Walk into Valentino Pizzeria Trattoria and forget the handshake. The manager may very well hug you as ‘we do in Italia,” she says with her Hispanic/Italian accent (what a combo, huh?). And be sure to set aside the diet because more is not enough at Valentino. It’s a delightful fact about Italians that they always cook more than is required. Grandma always did Rocco says.
It’s quintessential Italian with a large dose of Northern New Jersey – delivered by these owners Mike, Toni and Rocco – New Jerseyites and proud of it. They serve up everything fresh to order, honestly, from the escarole and bean soup to the cannoli and tiramisu. Expect secret family recipes sprinkled into large, mouth-watering portions and be sure to bring the family because it’s the Italian way.
Sit down and you’ll find fresh, crispy/soft homemade bread and real butter and garlic knots placed in front of you to immediately enjoy with perhaps a glass of Montepulciano, an AWC Vienna Gold medal-winning red wine with bouquets of red fruits, and a dry, earthy flavor. Not lengthy, but full of Italian and California favorites, the wine selection will complement any meal. Beer is available for die hard pizza and beer lovers.
For starters, there are a dozen apps to select from – I’d recommend something out of the ordinary – Nonna’s Long Hot Peppers served with thin fried potatoes. Think about adding Italian sausage for a real New Jersey treat. And/or the escarole and bean soup is light but hearty. A healthy selection of greens includes close to a dozen salads with an assortment of ingredients to Broccoli Rabe.
I have to say Grandma Josephine’s Pan Pie pizza is one of my top pizza pies to date. The square, thin crust is supposedly doctored up by frying it in olive oil and garlic (I think that’s a secret…shh). Then baked in a wood fire oven. Topped with a homemade margherita sauce and the highest quality mozzarella, it is impressive. There are close to two-dozen innovative pizzas in which to choose – from the exotic Clams Casino to the traditional deep dish Sicilian.
You’ll see different family members’ names on the entrees and pastas so Nonna wasn’t the only one that loved cooking in the kitchen. Flo’s cheese ravioli; Butchie’s Bolognese; Momma’s pasta, Toni’s salad and Franky’s Marsala definitely are strong indicators that most everything you eat at this place came from a personal family recipe not to be duplicated.
Owners Mike and Toni were on vacation the evening we arrived but Uncle Rocco and two female managers were fully attentive to our every need from frequent refills of bottled water to free flowing vino. The attentive service and timing, from soup and apps to salad, entrée and dessert, was impeccable.
Don’t see it on the menu? Rocco says to just ask. They make everything to order and if it’s in the kitchen, you got it.
Valentino Pizzaria Trattoria has two locations, the newest near Home Goods off Cooper Creek Blvd and University Parkway (8203 Cooper Creek Blvd.) and the first to open at 4045 Clark Road – now celebrating a decade in dining excellence. The ambience is pleasant, lighting adequate, and there is plenty of seating for large family gatherings – after all that’s the Italian way.
Committed to cooking with only the freshest, top-quality ingredients, just like their Nonna, Valentino Pizzeria Trattoria offers a large variety of homemade, cooked to order soups, appetizers, sandwiches, garden fresh salads, New Jersey style pizzas, entrees, and desserts as well as a nice assortment of wine and beer for lunch and dinner. Take-out and catering are available and the University Park location will have private party options in the near future.
For more information, call (941) 921-9600 (Clark Rd.) or (941) 359-6400 (University Park). You can also visit the website at www.valentinopizzeria.com for a closer look at the menu…the photos alone will have your saliva glands flowing. Mangia tutti (Everybody Eat!).
Photos by Patti Pearson