As this year comes to an end, the Dining with Draz team sends five Js to all the incredible people who make up the restaurant community. From the servers to the chefs, the farmers to front and back of house staffs, the restaurant business is never easy and this year, your never-say-die spirit has inspired us all. We also send five Js to the folks who continue to support their favorite restaurants with curbside pick-up, dine-in evenings and meal donations made to frontline workers. It’s easy to see how important dining out is to us all, and we hope 2021 will be a year full of great new recipes shared again in our favorite places.
Every month, we receive your much-appreciated suggestions of places to visit. One name that came up more than once was Nettie’s House of Spaghetti, so we decided to give it a try.
The restaurant has a kind of retro feel, from the reminiscent-of-the-80s revival art deco logo, to the cocktail menu; there’s even an old phone booth (which I loved) inside. The staff does some things well and others I didn’t really understand. It’s Italian, but they handle some of the classics in some non-traditional ways.
We were served a basket of really good sesame-crusted bread and picked our appetizers. We had the homemade Whipped Buttermilk Ricotta. It’s soft, creamy, and we enjoyed it! The showiest was the Fried Hen of the Woods and shiitake mushrooms with lemon. It’s dusted with za’atar seasoning which does include oregano, but is more often seen in Middle Eastern dishes. These are deep-fried and super crunchy, and the mushroom inside were sweet and tender. I would have liked a little dipping sauce of some sort on the side.
Now for the entrées. Diner one tried Nettie’s Vinegar Chicken. These are big chunks of free range, organic chicken with peppers and a vinegar sauce served on the side. This seemed more like a French dish to me, but the chicken was juicy with a nicely crisped skin, and the vinegar sauce was not tangy. She did enjoy the dish.
Diner two selected a traditional Cavatelli with broccoli rabe, sausage and Parmigiano Reggiano. Though the pasta was well-cooked, the overall dish was so mildly flavored that he had to ask for some red pepper to give it a little kick. Our server made frequent, pleasant stops by the table, but we had to keep asking for things. I expected to be offered freshly ground pepper or side plates and serving spoons, so be sure to request all the little extras.
I chose the Chicken Parmesan. Rather than a pounded cutlet, this dish is made with ground organic chicken thighs, formed into a circular patty and dusted with a good quality pecorino Romano and 24-month Parmigiano Reggiano, but there’s no gooey mozzarella. The patty was juicy, but its taste took me back in time too. At $25, I was surprised that it did not come with a side of pasta, especially in a place called Nettie’s House of Spaghetti.
We added two sides: Chopped Broccoli Rabe with Parmigiano Reggiano and Calabrian chile. It is almost minced, making it good for those who don’t like the sometimes-chewy texture of broccoli rabe. We also ordered the Braised Carrots and again got a unique take. The super tender carrots came served on a bed of lemon ricotta and were topped with red onion. That was a first for me.
The dessert menu offers two choices, and we enjoyed them both. The Sicilian Orange Cake is a dense, heavy cake with a distinct orange punch. It comes covered with an aromatic orange glaze and is sprinkled with sea salt and served next to big scoop of whipped cream. The second is their Homemade Ice Cream. It’s a pretty little thing, with a perfectly rounded scoop of ice cream, wearing a topping of whipped cream and a cherry. The flavors change daily, and we had chocolate espresso on our visit. It had a nice chocolatey taste and paired well with the delicious coffee. I’m sure the other flavors are just as good.
In general, I would say that if you are looking for the creamy risottos, polenta and veal from Northern Italy, the coastal bounty of shellfish, octopus and squid, the robust pork, salami and ham dishes, or the cannoli, fruits and lobster of Sicily, this is not your place. But it’s a place to consider for a cocktail and a low-key dinner with friends. It certainly has its fans, and it was at capacity on our mid-week visit. There is plenty of parking.
Cost – Moderate
What we liked – The big cocktail menu. The homemade cheese and the desserts.
What could be better – A little more variety, including some seafood and shellfish dishes.
We give it 4 Js
Nettie’s House of Spaghetti is located at 5119 Asbury Ave. in Tinton Falls. 732-922-9799. They’re open Wednesday through Sunday from 4:30 to 8:30 pm. NettiesRestaurant.com.