At age 11, while other Jersey kids were playing ball up the block, Tony Aponte was treating his four siblings to pizzas in the family kitchen. More than three decades have passed since those days. Tony has found new digs. He's moved to Ohio to be closer to his three daughters. But he is still crafting pizzas, drawing on those childhood experiences and a greatly expanded palette of toppings and ingredients available at Aponte's Pizzeria, which was featured on The Food Network's Restaurant Impossible.
In the pies he makes now, house-made sauce, hand-tossed white or wheat dough, and fistfuls of whole-milk cheese support capicola, genoa salami, grilled peppers, and artichoke hearts. While pulling apart slices, guests at Aponte’s Pizzeria can drink from a full bar or glance up at five flat-screen TVs to check sports scores or see if the anchorman is still wearing their friendship bracelet. Sports photos and team insignias pepper the marinara-red walls, and the tables clatter with plates of subs and baked pastas.
Helmed by owner Freweini “Bella” Andemicael, Cafe Bella's menu rattles off hearty Mediterranean and Italian fare, along with authentic African Eritrean dishes available each Wednesday. Bella’s hummus teams up with pickled red peppers, feta cheese, and a warm pita ($7), and lentil and vegetable soup spices itself with mild curry ($2 for a cup, $4 for a bowl) on the dinner menu. Tortellini packed with bacon, mushrooms, and nutmeg receives a parmesan cream coating ($15), and a juicy fillet mignon ($27) and a plate of scallops paired with spinach, pesto, and goat cheese along with mashed potatoes and blackberry balsamic ($20) fight for space in your stomach.
Bruno's dough-tossers create pies topped with fresh ingredients underneath a corrugated metal ceiling accented by shiny exposed ducts and suspended pizza-shaped decorations. Start with Bruno's signature Bruno dough, deep-fried doughy dollops tossed in garlic butter and sprinkled with parmesan, before taking on a large 14-inch cheese-covered creation. The pizza, made from the same recipe used at sister store Bruno's in Oxford, dresses to impress in a fine three-piece Italian suit of golden-crusted dough, savory sauce, and gooey cheese.
The kitcheneers at Fratelli's New York Style Pizzeria synthesize homemade sauces and freshly baked dough into adhesions of pizza and Italian fare. Peruse the menu for a specialty pie, such as a large Madison Square Garden, which is packed with green peppers, onions, black olives, and mushrooms ($18.95), or the New Yorker, which, like Manhattan, is densely populated with pepperoni, sausage, onion, and green peppers ($18.95 for a large). Fratelli's also nourishes noshers with hot dishes of cheese ravioli ($6.95) and hot sandwiches of meatball parmigiana ($6.55). Guests can thwart thirst by way of wine, beer, or stubborn determination.
Lucky Dog Grille's inviting environs serve up a menu of flavorful pub fare in comfortable noshing quarters for the whole family. Their plump, aromatic Big Dog wings send tongues aflutter, being slathered in one of your choice of 14 sauces and served with a side of palate-cooling ranch or blue cheese sauce ($5.49 for an order of six, $10.49 for 12, $15.99 for 18). Sample the lightly breaded fried pickles, golden brown and sidekicked with ranch ($5.49), or prove the conservative cheese forecast wrong with crispy, skin-on potato skin flats ($6.99). A host of handy handhelds like the spicy feta wrap ($7.99) and BBQ bacon steak Philly sandwich ($8.99) are equally capable of quelling vicious hunger pangs, or doubling as makeshift melee weapons during unexpected Plesiosaur attacks.
Geeter’s Bar & Grill inspires glum appetites with a delicious smorgasbord of bar-style burgers, sandwiches, and wings. Cheer up your food-craver with a serving of loaded potato skins stuffed with cheddar jack cheese, bacon bits, and a generous dollop of sour cream ($7.25) as you view the game of your preference on one of the bar’s 25 large-screen televisions. Then, sample a half-dozen hawg wings crafted from the tenderest cuts of bone-in pork, deep-fried, grilled, and drowned in Jamaican jerk barbecue sauce ($5.95). A battered Atlantic cod sandwich, consisting of crispy-fried, panko-breaded cod hidden within a kaiser roll’s tartar-sauced inner sanctum ($7.95), silences stomach growls, as does The Big Patterson, a smallness-challenged burger loaded with a half-pound patty of Angus beef ($7.25), or veggie supreme pizza ($14.95). Conclude a whirlwind eating excursion with a hefty helping of the day’s dessert choices.