For Zack Melker, Toscano Ristorante and Steakhouse in Bordentown City is “everything I dreamt it could be.”
Since opening in 2006, the restaurant has become known as a special occasion kind of place, just the right venue for romantic anniversaries and milestone birthdays.
It has also become, as Chef Melker notes, a “true steakhouse.” And he confesses that as much as he loves Toscano, he also loves making pasta. And he wants to make more if it.
Which is why, even in the middle of a pandemic, Melker is preparing to open a second restaurant in Bordentown: Angelo’s Trattoria.
Melker is gearing up to open Angelo’s in the former Oliver building on Farnsworth Avenue, just a few blocks down from Toscano. Tentative plans are to open in early June.
Melker, a graduate of The French Culinary Institute in Manhattan, says Angelo’s will feature a seasonal, changing menu with a focus on handmade pasta dishes.
“Homemade pasta, a lot of fish, a smaller menu,” Melker says. “Some peasant dishes. It’s going to be a lower-end Toscano, pretty much. Toscano became a true steakhouse. At Angelo’s, I’ll have more of a free reign, I’ll be able to do more with pasta.”
Melker envisions a menu that will be half regular items and half weekly specials.
“We’ll be keeping it seasonal, keeping it fresh,” he says. “Whatever comes to mind that week. It will depend on what’s growing locally, what is coming out of Barnegat Bay, stuff like that. I’m really excited to get back into making fresh pasta.”
In addition to prepared meals, Melker expects to sell premade sauces and packaged fresh and dried pasta for customers who want to cook at home. He also has a pasta machine on order that he plans to put in the front window of the restaurant so passersby can watch as it is made.
In March, after Covid-19 grew into a pandemic and the governor ordered restaurants to close their dining rooms, the partners made the decision to temporarily close the restaurants. Ravello reopened in April, Toscano in early May.
“We closed for the safety of our employees, number one, and number two our customers,” he says. “We have some employees who have been with us for 15 years. When we reopened, we just felt it was a little bit safer, we just felt it was a better time.”
At Toscano, they used the down time as wisely as they could by doing some long awaited renovations. When the dining room reopens, customers may notice fresh paint and new floors.
Angelo’s has also been fully renovated and will look very different from its Oliver days.
Melker is prepared to do takeout-only when Angelo’s opens. And he says whenever restaurant dining rooms do reopen, he and his staff will follow the guidelines set forth by the government.
“We’re going to follow social distancing, we’ll make sure everyone will be 6 feet apart, we won’t overload the dining room at all,” he says. “We’re already talking about a new table plan. We’re going to make sure everyone is safe in all of our restaurants.”
It hasn’t been easy trying to open a new restaurant during a pandemic, but Melker remains committed to making it happen. “This was not the game plan, but we’re sticking with it 100%,” he says. “You have to. I feel like we’re all going to learn from it, I feel like we’re all going to be stronger for it.”