Newfield—north of Vineland, just over the Cumberland County line in Gloucester County—might seem an unlikely spot for chef Andrea Covino to open after dazzling customers in higher- profile locales such as Philadelphia, Atlantic City, and Cherry Hill.
Covino trained and cooked in his native Naples before coming to the United States in 1987. He became executive chef at Philadelphia’s Girasole when it opened in 1991, and also ran the kitchen of Girasole in Atlantic City until 1996. After a couple more stops, he opened his own place in 2004 in Newfield. (The following year, he opened a second Andrea Trattoria in Sea Isle City.)
Covino and his family live in Vineland. “In Cumberland County, there are a lot of Italian people,” says Covino, 49, whose own famiglia helps out in the restaurant. “We thought it would be nice for them to be able to get good Italian food here.”
Like the building, which once was a pizza parlor, the 85-seat dining room is no-frills. The BYO gets its convivial, even boisterous atmosphere from its many parties of six, eight, or more.
The chef’s Neapolitan roots were displayed in several dishes, including three outstanding appetizers: mozzarella affumicata, calamari al limone, and broccoli rabe. The three thick rounds of pan-seared, smoked mozzarella topped with red and green roasted peppers performed a magic trick of softening without melting, while forming a buttery browned crust. Light and tender sautéed calamari were bathed in a balanced sauce of lemon, white wine, and capers. Broccoli rabe was presented in a rich, garlicky blend of greens, sausage, sun-dried tomatoes, and truffle oil. Another Neapolitan appetizer, eggplant Parmigiana, arrived steaming hot, but once it cooled, the eggplant was smothered by the bland, gloppy cheese.
Having spent time cooking in northern Italy as well, Covino serves shrimp with cherry tomatoes, arugula, and cannellini beans, a Tuscan-inspired dish that seductively blended the smokiness of sautéed shrimp with the smooth mildness of white beans. Grilled Portobello mushroom topped with sharp Asiago cheese and finished with a balsamic reduction also hit an appealing note. Another northern dish, fettuccini Bolognese, was less satisfying, lacking the cream finish with which many Bolognese recipes balance the acidity of wine and tomato.
Entrées included chicken Parmigiana with ably pan-fried breast fillets but bland tomato sauce. Covino says he was reluctant to put this dish on the menu—in Italy, he explained, chicken Parmigiana is usually served at home, not in restaurants—but he capitulated to public demand. “A lot of people think if you don’t have chicken Parmigiana, what kind of Italian restaurant are you?”
More interesting was chicken with asparagus and crabmeat, which came with a subtle lemon-cream sauce. Veal Valdostano also succeeded, its generous slices of sautéed veal topped with fontina in a rewarding mushroom and white-wine demiglace. One of the best entrées we tried has of late become a fixture in Italian restaurants in New Jersey—whole fish filleted tableside. On the night we tried it, the fish was baked spigola, or Mediterranean sea bass. Our waitress expertly separated the sweet flesh from the spine, and topped the filet with another iteration of the lemon caper sauce.
The lengthy dessert menu relies on Italian and French standards. Crêpes, filled with chocolate and fresh blueberry sauce, arrived cold. Chocolate tartufo, on the other hand, offered a satisfying globe of chocolate and vanilla ice cream encased in even richer dark chocolate. Tableside flambéing of rum crème brûlée not only lent drama, but also created the necessary browned sugar crust. Chocolate lava soufflé, with a melted chocolate center and a delicious cakey exterior, topped with strawberry sauce, was worth the fifteen-minute wait.
“We make everybody feel welcome,” Covino says. “It doesn’t matter if you come for the first time or you are a regular.”Click here to leave a comment
Cuisine Type:European - Italian