By Sally Deering
In the Marion Section of Jersey City on Broadway near the Pulaski Skyway entrance is where you’ll find Rita & Joe’s, an Italian eatery that as soon as you walk in the door it feels like home.
Rita & Joe Pane bought the place in 1985 when it was called the Broadway Tavern, a neighborhood hangout where the bar took up most of the room. Rita would make Chicken and Shrimp Parmigiana sandwiches and dinners for the customers and take out dishes they could enjoy at home. Soon, the bar got smaller and the dining room got bigger as more and more customers came in for the food and became regulars.
In 2007, Rita & Joe’s son Michael died suddenly from a heart aneurism and Joe passed away from a stroke a short time later, leaving Rita and her daughter-in-law Isabel (“Izzy”) to take over the business.
“Being here is what saved me and the kids,” Izzy says. “Being here kept me going.”
Running the business together has bonded the two women, although Izzy says: “We were always close.”
At 81, Rita comes to work every day to make her special desserts and Izzy oversees staff and ensures guests are welcomed. There’s a whole lotta love in this restaurant and on a recent visit, as Rita sat talking with a guest in a booth by the door, customers on their way out came over to take her hand and kiss her cheek as if they were saying goodbye to a beloved grandmother.
The dishes at Rita & Joe’s are as authentically Italian as you’ll ever get in New Jersey.
Known for their big portions, Rita & Joe’s doesn’t skimp on anything. The basket of warm crusty Italian bread served at your table as soon as you arrive is bottomless and that’s just to get you warmed up and in the mood for a big dinner. The menu overflows with choices and here’s just a sampling of Appetizers, Soups, Salads, Pizza, Pasta, and Entrees you might enjoy:
For Cold Appetizers you might like the Antipasto (Sm. $8.95; Lg. $15.95), Seafood Salad ($11.95), Clams on the Half Shell (1/2 Doz. $7.95), Shrimp Cocktail ($10.95) or Homemade Mozzarella, Tomatoes and Roasted Peppers ($10.95); Hot Appetizers include Calamari (fried or marinara $8.95), Spedini alla Romano ($8.95), Thinly-Sliced Hot Italian Sausage, Peppers and Onions with Roasted Garlic and Mozzarella Cheese ($9.95) and Baked Clams ($8.95).
Soups include Pasta e Fagioli (cup $3.95; bowl $4.95) and Chicken Stracatelle (cup $2.95; bowl $3.95); and the Salad menu features Orange and Cheese Salad with Grilled Shrimp ($10.95), Sliced Grilled Steak Spinach Salad ($10.95) and Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad ($10.95). Pizza loverscan order a Personal Size Pizza (10 inch pie $7.95 and $1.50 for each additional topping).
Entrees are served with a choice of soup or salad and pasta or vegetable and feature a vast choice of Veal, Chicken and Pasta Dishes including : Veal Milanese, tender scallopine of veal egg dipped and breaded with seasoned breadcrumbs. ($17.95); and Veal Picata, thin slices of veal lightly sautéed in a white wine and lemon sauce with capers ($17.95). Chicken Dishes include Chicken Francese, egg dipped and sautéed boneless breast of chicken in a white wine, lemon and Parmesan cheese sauce. ($15.95); and Chicken Parmigiana, breaded chicken cutlet baked with marinara sauce and topped with homemade mozzarella cheese ($15.95).
The Pastas are homemade using only the finest ingredients. For example, you might want to try the Cheese Ravioli Marinara, traditional pasta pillows stuffed with Ricotta Cheese ($11.95); or Linguini Puttanesca, linguini in a zesty sauce of roasted garlic, plum tomatoes, capers and a hint of anchovy ($11.95). Rita’s Signature Pasta Dishes are Ravioli Fatto in Casa, homemade Ravioli topped with sautéed Shrimp, Portobello mushrooms and Sundried Tomatoes in a Pink Vodka Sauce ($16.95) and Manicotti Fatto in Casa, homemade Manicotti shells stuffed with ricotta and mozzarella cheese, shrimp and sautéed Broccoli Rabe in a Pink Vodka Sauce ($15.95).
There are daily specials and the restaurant is open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner. There’s also a newly-renovated catering hall in the back that holds 25-100 people and is perfect for corporate functions, bridal and baby showers and all types of celebrations.
One regular whose grown children live in California says they prefer dining at Rita & Joe’s when they’re visiting back east.
“People in Jersey City don’t say ‘I’m going to Rita & Joe’s for dinner.’” he says. “They say ‘I’m going home.’”
If you go:
Rita & Joe’s
Jersey City (201) 451-3606
Hours: Mon-Thurs: 11:30 am-9:45 pm; Fri: 11:30 am-10:45 pm; Sat: 1-10:45 pm