Rita & Joe’s New Chef adds Hip to the Menu
Seasonings are Key to Great Flavors
By Sally Deering
Nestled in Jersey City’s Marion Section, west of Journal Square, Rita & Joe’s Italian Restaurant has been serving customers since 1985 when owners Rita and Joe Pane turned a “beer and shots” bar into a popular neighborhood eatery
Fast forward to 2015. Rita & Joe’s celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, but instead of relying on the old standbys, Isabel “Izzy” Pane (Rita’s daughter-in-law) has made some changes to keep up with the changing times. She brought on Chef Stephen McCall, a 1999 graduate of the New York Restaurant School who, along with Izzy, has revamped Rita & Joe’s menu with a contemporary take on tradition. Rita’s signature dishes like Eggplant and Chicken Parmigiana are still offered, but Chef Stephen has created some new dishes flavored with carefully chosen seasonings and using all fresh ingredients. You won’t find store-bought pastas at this restaurant; everything is made fresh and to order.“Our big change is we’re focusing on fresh made pastas, fresh ingredients, and more up-to-date cooking techniques so we can cater to a wider variety of people,” Chef Stephen says. “I’m focusing on seasonal food; it’s not the same menu all year long. As the ingredients are available; that’s what we’ll use.”
The homemade pasta dishes include Salmon Cappelletti with melted leeks and peas, and a white wine cream; Radiatore Vongole with garlic, grape tomatoes, white wine and crispy leeks; Fettuccine Putanesca with Kalamata and green olives, caper berries, anchovies and marinara; Gnocchi Fresca with fresh tomato, spring onion, asparagus and white wine; Ricotta Strangliopretti with oven-dried tomatoes, roasted eggplant, fennel and shaved ricotta salata; Manicotti Fatto, home-made manicotti shells stuffed with ricotta and mozzarella cheese, shrimp and broccoli rabe in a pink vodka sauce; and Mezzaluna made with shrimp, leeks, tomato and saffron sauce. ($10.95-$16.95)
Antipasto dishes feature Stuffed Peppadew Peppers with fresh mozzarella, prosciutto, artichoke hearts and cherry peppers; Fried Calamari; Grilled Octopus; Rita’s Meatballs; Brasaola Carpaccio; and Truffle Gnocchi and Meatballs. ($7.95-$12.95) Insalata (salads) include the Orange and Fennel; Caesar; and Baby Spinach. ($6.95; add Shrimp or Chicken for $5.95) Pizzas are the Margarita; Prosciutto; Funghi; and Sausage and Peppers. ($8.95-$11.95)
The Entratas (entrees) offer a kaleidoscope of flavors like the Grilled Bronzino with charred lemon vinaigrette, broccoli rabe, crispy pancetta and red bliss potatoes; Roasted Salmon with oven-roasted tomato risotto, grilled fennel and a tomato fennel broth; Grilled Teres Major with Rosemary roasted potatoes, green beans, and red wine jus; Grilled Twin Pork Chops with asparagus, mushroom, potato hash and pomegranate balsamic drizzle; Chicken Montebianco, two chicken breasts layered with prosciutto, spinach and shrimp in a sherry cream sauce; Chicken Sorrentino with prosciutto, fried eggplant, mozzarella cheese combined with chicken breast and sherried marinara sauce; and Braised Short Ribs with parmesan mashed potatoes, baby carrots and barolo jus. ($15.95-$25.95)
“We have the classics, too,” Izzy says, “like our Chicken Cardinal with roasted peppers, prosciutto, sautéed shrimp and mozzarella; and our Eggplant Parmigiana, which is available all the time. So is the Chicken Parmigiana. These are Rita’s recipes from when we first opened and they are always on the menu.”
Chef Stephen honors the traditional recipes that Rita & Joe’s has served to their customers over the years, but he’s added his own contemporary twist. And if a customer requests something that’s not on the menu, just like another Rita & Joe’s tradition, Chef Stephen says he will always try to fulfill the request.
“As long as I have the ingredients, there’s no reason for me to say no,” Chef Stephen says. “We will always try to accommodate everybody.”
Chef Stephen brings to Rita & Joe’s a passion for cooking that goes back to when he was a kid watching his parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts create dishes for the family meals.
“In my family, everyone’s a good cook,” Chef Stephen says. “We would have these big family dinners at Grandma’s house in Spotswood. Russian food was our big staple. We’d have 30-40 people gathered around the table on holidays.”
At Rita & Joe’s there are daily specials; and they make their own desserts. The restaurant is open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner; and there’s a banquet room adjacent to the restaurant for Christenings, baby showers, graduation parties, wedding receptions and corporate functions.
And although Jersey City’s Marion section continues to undergo change – the new Mana Contemporary art museum and art storage facility is located just down the street – Rita & Joe’s continues to be a neighborhood staple and go-to destination for traditional Italian cuisine.
“We’ve been here 30 years,” Izzy says. “We’ve become one of Jersey City’s landmarks.”
If you go
Rita & Joe’s
142 Broadway, JC
Kitchen opens: Mon-Thurs, 11:30 am – 9:45 pm
Fri, 11:30 am – 10:45 pm; Sat, 1 – 10:45 pm
Sun, 1 pm – 9 pm