AMBIENCE: An antiques store with food
WINE LIST: BYO
As passions, dining and shopping go together, though usually in separate establishments. Di Palma Brothers puts the two together in a wacky and winning way. It’s a big antiques store that serves nostalgic Italian cooking. Tables are placed among old breakfronts and dressers loaded with vintage jewelry, china, and other small collectibles.
A century ago, Naples native Baltasar Di Palma opened a produce store in Union City. His children later moved back to Italy and started an antiques business. When the clan returned to New Jersey, they decided to combine the two. Titina Di Palma, Baltasar’s daughter, assists her daughter, Concetta, in the kitchen. Titina’s son Raphael manages the restaurant and buys the antiques.
The Di Palmas stake their reputation on their red sauce, a traditional marinara. Simmered for hours in army-sized vats, it conveys the naturally sweet flavor of San Marzano tomatoes, along with subtle accents of fresh garlic and basil.
We were surprised, therefore, that standard dishes like parmigiana and lasagna leaned toward the bland and limp. The kitchen did better with an appetizer of Roman-style grilled artichoke hearts set on baby arugula and grapefruit slices. “Grandma’s” all-beef meatballs and the Italian-style meatloaf, both lightened with egg, proved to be excellent vehicles for the signature sauce. Pillowy house-made gnocchi in a fine pesto punchy with basil, and cavatelli with fennel-sparked pork sausage, proved the kitchen is not a one-trick pony.
Seafood, though, tends to be bland. Culprits included fried sole Milanese, seafood al cartoccio (cooked in a parchment pouch), and shrimp fra diavolo, a long way from living up to its devilish name.
Pudding-like tiramisù is a popular dessert, but the better choice is the semifreddo, studded with chopped almonds.
After dinner, one can schmooze or shop. Di Palma may be the only restaurant where your bill might list “bracelet” along with “broccoli rabe.” —K.T.H
8728 Kennedy Boulevard, North Bergen (201-868-3005). Lunch: Tuesday through Friday, noon to 3 pm. Dinner: Tuesday through Friday, 5 to 10 pm; Saturday and Sunday, 1:30 to 10 pm. All major credit cards are accepted. Dining room and bathrooms are wheelchair accessible.Click here to leave a comment
Cuisine Type:European - Italian