I often don’t venture out to Italian restaurants because my theory is I can make that at home any day. Growing up in an Italian family it really wasn’t necessary to go out for good Italian food. However, there were always one or two places we were regulars at. The most important one to our family has always been Spirito’s in Elizabeth, the Peterstown section (i.e. Italian section) of Elizabeth, New Jersey. Although I’ve said before that The Mad Batter in Cape May, NJ is my favorite restaurant in NJ, Spirito’s is my favorite joint for Italian food. And unfortunately for me, I compare all Italian restaurants to Spirito’s. Spirito’s is a little hole in the wall restaurant that’s been around since the 1930s. They have a very basic menu – bar pizza, spaghetti and meatballs, raviolis, lasagna, chicken cacciatore, veal and peppers, and a few other items. They don’t take reservations, credit cards, checks or serve butter with the bread. The decor is next to nothing and the waitresses never write down your order no matter how many people in the party – and they never get it wrong. It’s a charming little place and I’ve never had better raviolis or garlic salad in my life. We’ve gone there for every holiday, event or just when no one can or wants to cook that day. Nothing will ever compare. Spirito’s is so good and memorable that one of my cooking inspirations, Tom Colicchio, chef, creator of Bravo TV’s Top Chef, and another Peterstown local, talks about it in the latest issue of NJ Monthly.
Unfortunately, I don’t live nearby Spirito’s anymore so it’s quite a hike when we do go. We’ve been trying to find a good basic Italian place since we moved but haven’t had any luck. There are quite a few Italian restaurants that serve more upscale food and would never have spaghetti and meatballs on the menu. My husband’s been craving spaghetti and meatballs for awhile now and since I am not about to put a pot of gravy on the stove during the summer (that’s spaghetti sauce in other words) we needed to find a place that had it. I’ve driven past Brothers Pizzeria and Restaurant in Red Bank, NJ many, many times and it had that same kind of look that Spirito’s had – an old brick building that looked like the place had been around for a long time. I’ve read about it on http://www.nj.com where they reviewed the bar pizza there with mixed reviews. I figured this place just had to have spaghetti and meatballs on the menu and I was right.
When we got there it was about 6:30 p.m. on a Saturday night and about half crowded. Not a good sign. The decor, mostly very old tables and wood paneling didn’t throw me off. We started off with side salads which were just ok. Here’s my issue with a salad in NJ in the summer. You can get the most amazing tomatoes in the summer in NJ and our salads had the most awful, pale, pinkish, flavorless tomatoes.
Next for an appetizer we shared a bar pizza. This wasn’t too bad. It had a little too much cheese on it so that you really couldn’t taste the sauce. It was very thin and crispy but the crust was almost flavorless. I wouldn’t go here to just get this pizza but let’s say after a softball game, I could see myself heading here for some beer and pizza with my teammates and it would do.
For dinner I ordered raviolis and my husband ordered spaghetti and meatballs. I only tasted his meatballs and they left a bad taste in my mouth. I think there was nutmeg in them maybe? Something sweet that shouldn’t have been there. My raviolis made me sad. They were so thin and watery with almost no filling. I’ve gotten better in the frozen section in the supermarket. The gravy (tomato sauce) was just ok. It had a little too much oregano in it for me. I do not use oregano when I make mine so it may taste better to others. Of course I compared the food to Spirito’s. I’ve never tasted raviolis like the ones at Spirito’s which are just beautiful, plump little pillows of the most delicious ricotta filling ever.
The service was very good though, friendly, quick, and attentive. The food left little to be desired. I would not go back here again. If my husband is really craving spaghetti and meatballs, next time I’m either just making it myself or taking the hour plus drive to Spirito’s.