Lakeview Dining at Pavinci Italian Grill

On the shore of Lake Hopatcong, a lively restaurant atmosphere for dinner, drinking and dancing.

Arugula salad. Photo by Suzanne Zimmer Lowery

Pavinci Italian Grill is built into the lower level of a beautiful old stone church right on the shore of Lake Hopatcong, but what is worshiped here is dinner, drinking and dancing. The atmosphere is a combination of banquet room, pub and dance hall. With an ample bar lined with TVs, lots of indoor and outdoor seating and a big staging area for bands, there’s a little something for everyone, whether you drive the long and winding lake road, or drift up to one of the dock spaces in your boat.

On a hot and rainy Friday night we were greeted by a poorly operating air conditioner, but our friendly waitress quickly seated us with a center stage view of the band setting up for the night’s festivities and some refreshing cocktails.

Although she asked if we’d like bread, it didn’t arrive until midway through our first course, and it turned out to be way too cold and spongy to call itself a respectable Italian loaf, despite the nice little bowl of seasoned olive oil that accompanied it.

Shrimp and broccoli rabe. Photo by Suzanne Zimmer Lowery

All entrees are available with a house salad for an additional $1, but we decided to opt for the arugula con citrolo, a large, excellent fresh mix of bitter greens with cucumber, tomatoes, red onions and shaved provolone, tossed in a light, lemony vinaigrette.

The grilled asparagus appetizer offered three spears wrapped in mozzarella and prosciutto, which would have been delicious if not for being swamped in a thick and pasty white wine cream sauce. The pink brandy sauce served with our crab cake was more palatable, but the cake itself was more breading than crab.

 

The signature Vitello Pavinci entree also suffered from goopy champagne sauce, but the tender thin medallions of veal with fresh tomatoes and shiitake mushrooms helped make up for it. Fortunately, the Gamberi e Rabe, shrimp and broccoli rabe over capellini pasta, was balanced with a lighter garlic and oil sauce.

Tres leche cake. Photo by Suzanne Zimmer Lowery

We had to wait until the end for the highlight of the evening, a perfectly prepared tres leche cake that was soft and sweet and went down easy with complimentary cocktail samples from Jersey City-based Misunderstood Whiskey, followed of course, by a few spins around the dance floor to work it all off.

 

Pavinci’s is a fun spot, but some tweaks in balance are sorely needed in order to get the menu up to par.

Pavinci Italian Grill, 453 River Styx Grill Road, Hopatcong, 973-770-4300. Open Tuesday- Sunday for lunch and dinner and late-night entertainment. Sunday brunch buffet is available 11am until 2pm.

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