It's not a barbecue, it's a wood burning pizza oven. But great pizza isn't the only thing available at Treno in Westmont, writes Adam Erace.
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If the cords of oak, cherry, apple and mulberry wood outside are the first tip-off, the toasty, sweet-smoky aroma inside is the second. The heart of Treno is a wood-burning oven, and the pizzas emerging from it are first-rate. Treno, located between Haddonfield and Collingswood in the township of Westmont, also offers casual but carefully prepared pastas and other Italian food, all at reasonable prices. It shows what can happen when an owner is forced back to the drawing board and rises to the challenge.
The space was previously occupied by Kitchen 233, owned by the P.J.W. Restaurant Group (P.J. Whelihan’s, the Chophouse, the Pour House). “Financially, Kitchen 233 wasn’t cutting it,” says Treno chef Todd Fuller, 40. “It was an ambiguous concept. At the end, there was no leadership or direction.” When P.J.W. decided to start over, Fuller, a vet of the Stephen Starr Restaurant Organization, was cooking at the Pour House. “There was a gap in the market, not only for pizza, but for Italian that was not necessarily South Jersey-Italian,” he says.
Fuller estimates that Treno, which opened in December 2009, has been pulling in two and a half times the number of guests Kitchen 233 used to.
The choicest seats line the snug little chef’s bar in front of the pizza oven, an L of white marble with views into the gaping mouth of the more than 800-degree, Italian-made, EarthStone oven. Here, 12-inch Neapolitan-style pies emerge bubbly, with singed crusts framing waves of prosciutto, fontina and arugula; discs of house-cured pepperoni, mozzarella and tomato; roasted vegetables; or fig, smoked prosciutto and Gorgonzola—to name just a few of the toppings that adorn Treno’s eleven menu pies. Others include roasted tomato, smoked and fresh mozzarella, pistachio pesto; and Margherita.
In addition, each week brings a special pie. One featured tops of tender asparagus, like vibrant green brush tips, as a vegetal counterpoint to ethereal ricotta. Another visit brought hunks of braised short rib and streamers of spring onion on a base of creamy burrata. Of the five pies I ate at Treno, these two were my favorites.
Among the regular pies, I enjoyed ricotta crowned with bitter, garlicky broccoli rabe, nuggets of house-made fennel pork sausage and sliced jalapeños —a cross-cultural choice that worked. We ordered this pie with the nutty whole-wheat crust (available on all pies) and paired it with it a hoppy Dogfish Head 60-Minute IPA from Delaware—one of a handful of local beers on a list that’s about half microbrew and half Bud-Coors commercial. Considering the list was compiled by the same owners as the Pour House, a craft-focused beer bar just down the street, I’d expected (and hoped for) a broader selection of craft beers.
Wine is a better bet. It’s ingeniously grouped into three glass-and-bottle price tiers: $5 and $19; $7 and $27; $9 and $35. The breezy tasting notes (“ripe plum, cherry and raspberry aromas, subtle oak nuances” for Tunnel of Elms merlot, sadly no longer available) are helpful.
The remaining pies I tried would have benefitted from a tweak or two. Less lemon-dressed arugula on the prosciutto, please; it’s a pizza, not a salad. And less sticky-sweet dried figs on the tangy Gorgonzola; it’s a pizza, not a dessert. Still, I enjoyed them, and with so many other delicious things to eat at Treno, one or two less-than-perfect slices don’t throw the game. I’m thinking of the excellent meatballs, three tender orbs to an order, made from beef, pork and veal. They arrive smothered in crushed-tomato sauce, finished with a drizzle of good olive oil and a shaving of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Chopped celery, cracked green olives, tomatoes and hot peppers brightened fried calamari. Salads were good—in one instance, oven-dried prosciutto, creamy goat cheese and grilled asparagus over arugula; in another, grilled shrimp and hefty croutons over wood-roasted romaine.
If the rustic farro-and-tomato soup is on special, get it. The soulful beef broth is mined with bits of succulent short rib your spoon brings to the surface like buried treasure. The meat and cheese antipasto, presented on a wood slab, is a nice way to sample the house-made salami along with Parma prosciutto, taleggio cheese and hunks of Parmigiano-Reggiano anointed with caramely aged balsamic vinegar. Fuller has a deft hand with pasta, too, evident in a thick-cut rigatoni tossed in a braised beef Bolognese touched with tomato and cream, and classic spaghetti and crab fra diavolo spiked with chili flakes. The portions are big enough to share.
For dessert, stick to the house-made gelati in flavors like invigorating blood orange, rich chocolate, aromatic vanilla and nutty pistachio. Avoid the Chocolate Salami, slices of chilled, pistachio-studded ganache paired with orange-rhubarb chutney, which tasted stale. Coffee comes from Philly’s LaColombe, a great bean Treno sadly served as cool as the affable servers are warm.