With spring in our hearts, we headed off to the always-busy dining town of Bradley Beach to give one of its mainstay restaurants a whirl: the family-owned Pagano’s UVA Ristorante. In a town with so many dining options, this authentic Italian cornerstone eatery has been a steadily glowing ember, and it delivered that homey, established feeling we were in the mood for.
The restaurant has two sections. To the left is a big bar area, which doubles as a party room and brunch spot. That’s where the live entertainment is also. To the left is the main dining room with its deep red and green walls, comfortable booths, tables and a long banquette, meaning there’s a perfect seat for everyone.
The menu mirrors that vibe. It is quite large with an abundant selection of appetizers, bar food, pizzas and, of course, entrées. We went classic Italian which gave the chef’s Italian roots a chance to shine – and they did.
We began with three appetizers. The Garlic Jumbo Shrimp simmered in a basil, garlic butter sauce with fresh tomatoes. This has a different twist as the five large shrimp sit atop a delightfully doughy biscuit, swimming in the golden sauce.
It is a big dish, almost enough for lunch or a light dinner. It’s easy to see why this has been one of their top sellers for more than 20 years. Really good and not too garlicky. Next was the truly authentic Broccoli Rapa Luigi – a classic!
The sautéed rapini comes with crumbled Italian sweet and hot sausage, toasted garlic, olive oil and fried Italian long hot peppers. This could have easily been mixed with some orecchiette for an entrée. The balance was just right, and the rapini was tender but not mushy. It tastes like Grandma’s. Our third was the Mozzarella Di Bufalo. This version is a pleasant surprise as the Mozzarella Di Bufalo is served warm in a radicchio cup topped with olive oil and shaved Grana Padano. The cheese was a creamy delight, melting over the still-crisp radicchio. Pick any, pick all three, and you’ll be happy with your choices.
We were going to try a salad, pizza and a pasta dish, but those appetizers gave us a run for the money, so we moved onto our entrées. Diner one selected the Shrimp and Calamari Fra’diavolo which comes in a tangy tomato sauce.
The dish is served over linguini, but she skipped the pasta and was delivered a big bowl of spicy seafood. The dish had a real kick that is probably tamed by the pasta, but the heat didn’t bother our brave diner who really enjoyed this red-hot dish.
Diner two chose the Tilefish Provencale served on a bed of julienne vegetables with brown rice and a lemon butter sauce, topped with diced tomatoes. Tilefish is not on the menu but is a frequent special, served this style and also often in a ginger glaze variety. It was exquisite, so do ask for it. The meaty, snow-white tilefish was truly complimented by the earthy sides, and the simple sauce brought it all together. It was another show of this chef’s homestyle savvy. Just yummy.
I tried the Lamb Chops Bianca. Described as a New Zealand rack of lamb, mine were actually six lollipop chops, so ask if you’re craving a bigger piece of lamb, as I was. That said, they were still well-seasoned and tender. The big dish comes with roasted potatoes and sautéed escarole in a roasted garlic rosemary sauce. I really loved that escarole, and the whole dish was extremely flavorful.
Time for the desserts. We tried three. The big selection of desserts (at least a dozen) is shared on a tray. Our favorite was the Italian cheesecake, a traditional, tall and fluffy slice of housemade cheesecake. Our other selections included a lemon blueberry cake, which had the look of carrot cake. It’s a nice, dense cake, but the lemon flavor is very light, so those looking for a pucker may want try something else. The third was a clever strawberry coconut cake. What a nice combination – light and pleasing to all palettes, even the kids.
Pagano’s UVA Ristorante is a comfortable choice for any group of people and occasion, and the restaurant even offers a Mother’s Day brunch.
Cost – low to moderate
What we liked – The warm colors and homey interior with its comfortable lighting and conversation-friendly acoustics. The big menu with choices that fit every taste and every level of hunger. The large portions, the straightforward and well-made cocktails, the rear parking lot, the live music, the authentic Italian flavors, the attentive service and the overall comfortable feel that is perfect for all ages.
What could be better – We really enjoyed it all.
We give it 4 and three quarter Js
Pagano’s UVA Ristorante is located at 800 Main St. in Bradley Beach. 732-775-0906. UVAonMain.com. Lunch is served Monday through Saturday from 11 am to 4 pm. Dinner is served Monday through Thursday from 4 to 10 pm; Friday and Saturday from 4 to 11 pm and Sunday from 1 to 9 pm. The bar hours are Monday through Wednesday from 11 am to midnight; Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 11 am to 2 am and Sunday from 11:30 am to 11 pm. Happy Hour is Monday through Friday from 12 to 7 pm, Saturday from 12 to 6 pm and all day Sunday. There is live entertainment every Friday and Saturday.