By Mike Steele
Toscano Ristorante’s menu features classic Italian dishes that include a variety of pastas, cheeses and sauces, but Chef Zack Melker’s inclusion of a unique set of meat dishes has made his Bordentown City establishment more than just a traditional Italian restaurant.
He opened Toscano Ristorante six years ago, creating a menu that features a mixture of traditional and new dishes.
“We’re not just a typical Italian restaurant. We’re almost like an Italian steakhouse,” Melker said. “We’re one of the only restaurants in the area that’s dry-aging meat. A lot of people don’t know what it is, but they know how good it is.”
At the restaurant, steaks are aged in a special cooler fridge in the basement for three to four weeks. The process breaks down connective tissues, thus tenderizing the beef. The cooler also draws moisture out of the meat, condensing its taste.
“It bursts with flavor,” Melker said.
Special meat dishes include veal shank served with homemade gnocchi and fresh ricotta cheese, and pork chops marinated in root beer, among others.
Lunch options consist of a variety of soups, salads and sandwiches. The dinner menu features Italian favorites, such as eggplant rollatini, clams casino and mussels fra diablo.
Fried calamari dusted with bacon and tossed in a sweet and sour sauce is a favorite of customers, Melker said. Another popular dish is the Italian egg roll, stuffed with sausage, broccoli rabe and provolone cheese, served on a bed of white bean bruschetta.
On Sundays, a family-style menu is available. All dishes are served for two.
“It’s old-school traditional Italian on Sundays. It’s more low key. We do a lot of homemade pastas,” said Melker, who has noticed that customers really enjoy the Italian classics.
“Everyone’s going back to more traditional dishes,” he said.
The Sunday menu includes meatballs and salad, a recipe created by Melker’s grandmother. In February, the dish earned Toscano Ristorante a slot in New Jersey Monthly magazine’s list of top six Italian restaurants in the state.
The restaurant uses all Jersey-grown produce, including tomatoes and corn. Meat and fish is also purchased locally, and change with the seasons.
“Every month there’s a different fish. Right now, I’m getting local scallops from Barnegat Light,” Melker said.
Melker, who owns the restaurant with his father, John, and uncle, John Antinoro, has worked in kitchens his entire life. His godparents owned Sal DeForte’s in Chambersburg, and he said he started cooking for them when I was about eight years old. Later, he went to culinary school in New York.
The restaurant’s lunch menu is available Tuesday–Friday from 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m. The dinner menu is available Monday–Thursday from 5–9 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 3–10 p.m. and Sunday from 3–7 p.m. Private parties and a catering menu are also available.
Toscano Ristorante is located at 136 Farnsworth Ave. in Bordentown. Phone: (609) 291-0291. On the Web: toscano-ristorante.com.