Restaurant Review

Sonny’s on the Avenue

Like many people in Essex County, Tom Malanga can map his history along Bloomfield Avenue. He grew up in Newark, where it begins its thirteen-mile westward trek, and lives in North Caldwell, not far from where the avenue dissolves into Route 46. Malanga, a chiropractor and former caterer, has his chiropractic office on Bloomfield Avenue in Verona.

When he decided to open a restaurant in 2006, he found a spot on the avenue about a block from his office and named it in memory of his father, Salvatore, better known as Sonny, a Newark native who became a NASA aerospace engineer. Scores of framed family photos line the walls. Chef Joe Farina is a Verona native. Meats, seafood, and pastas come from local suppliers. Malanga’s wife, Alyssa, a chef and food stylist, makes most desserts.

With such roots and familial amicizia, it’s a shame the kitchen doesn’t do more things well. Standouts in our visits included an Italian-sausage appetizer blanketed with provolone; baby arugula with pecans, dried cherries, and gorgonzola vinaigrette; and a juicy 16-ounce boneless sirloin.

Cavatelli in tomato sauce with sweet sausage and fresh ricotta was pleasant but undistinguished. Penne served with many entrées was soft and bland (the grated cheese dry and bland). A thick grilled pork chop was somewhat overcooked. Alyssa Malanga’s tiramisu cheesecake at least provides a happy ending. When warm weather returns, the tables in the lovely rear garden beckon.

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