A number of restaurants have come and gone from this Main Street space, which may be why, in late 2008, the Moorestown business association asked successful restaurateur Joe Tucker if he might be interested in taking it over. Tucker, owner of Joe Pesce Restaurant in Collingswood and Joseph’s on the Avenue in Philadelphia, wasn’t in the market, but his cousin, Thomas Anastasi, 32, a graduate of the Philadelphia Restaurant School who had worked at Joseph’s on the Avenue, was.
“We’re just another Italian family,” Anastasi says modestly, “trying to run a good Italian restaurant.” That may be, but they have a way to go. Our first visit got off to a bad start when we arrived in the entrance vestibule and were ignored in favor of a larger party that pushed ahead of us to catch the hostess’s attention. When I pointed this out, the hostess acted like we were in the wrong, and questioned whether our whole party was present although the four of us were standing right in front of her.
The meal itself went relatively smoothly, despite widely spaced delivery of dishes and various hits and misses from the kitchen. Things unraveled when the check arrived. I questioned the $24 charge for the “special salad” we had been urged to order, a baked flatbread topped with romaine, sautéed crab, shrimp, and Caesar dressing. The hostess jumped in, describing this as a shared appetizer and insisting that the waiter must have told us this, which he had not. The situation deteriorated further as we lingered over dessert and coffee, and the hostess marched past our table several times, collecting half-full glasses and plates (including one with most of my carrot cake still intact) and whispering to a waitress about our failure to depart to make way for a waiting party.
Giving them the benefit of the doubt for the busy, perhaps hectic Friday night, we chose a quiet weeknight for our second visit. We were seated quickly by a different hostess at a table toward the front of the sepia-toned dining room. After a half-hour wait for our appetizers, our focus was diverted by the hostess, who had pulled up a chair beside the hostess stand and for the next fifteen minutes talked, shouted, and cried through what was clearly a personal phone call.
The food, like the hospitality, was uneven. As with the special salad, the addition of crab and/or shrimp seemed to be a recurring attempt to jazz up standard preparations, not always to the benefit of the dish. The fried prosciutto appetizer stuffed with lump crabmeat was salty and dry, as was veal Pavarotti. A New York strip steak came topped with shrimp and mushrooms—odd, because that wasn’t what the menu said. (The waitress told us we must have been given the steak special, but wouldn’t be charged extra.) The steak itself was tender and well cooked, but the toppings were superfluous.
The one dish where the addition of seafood worked was the toasted crabmeat macaroni and cheese, a creamy blend of homemade pappardelle noodles in an alfredo sauce with parmesan, provolone, and mozzarella cheeses, topped with lump crabmeat and baked.
Several appetizers were quite good: oysters Rockefeller; lightly fried calamari, zucchini, and shrimp, nicely embellished with hot cherry peppers; and portobello melanzano, an artful stack of mushrooms, eggplant, tomatoes, and mozzarella, baked and finished with a balsamic vinegar reduction. Entrées were largely disappointing, from stew-like braciole to undercooked Chilean sea bass in an overly sharp lemon caper sauce with artichoke hearts, and olives.
About half the desserts are made on premises, the rest at one of Joe Tucker’s restaurants. Cheesecake and cannoli, both made in house, were standard fare. Tucker’s five-layer chocolate layer cake was gummy; carrot cake was overly sweet. The best dessert was apple pie with its hot, chunky apples and buttery crumb crust.