Angelo Lutz must be a marketing genius. Far from hiding his criminal past, his Collingswood restaurant, the Kitchen Consigliere, revels in it. A 15-foot-long mural depicts real and fictive mob figures, flat-screen TVs stream classic gangster movies, and the wall sconces are shaped like handguns. On weekends, Kitchen Consigliere is more crowded than a courtroom when a mob boss turns state’s evidence.
Convicted of racketeering with six others in 2001, Lutz served seven years in prison. Afterward, the former bookie, a South Philly native, turned to the only other thing he knew. “When you grow up in an Italian household,” Lutz told me in a phone interview after my visits, “food is one of the essentials. You don’t ask—you just watch and learn.”
Some bad blood in Philly ruled out his getting a restaurant job there, so in 2010 he opened the original 38-seat Kitchen Consigliere Café on a back street in Collingswood. As its popularity grew, so did its owner, who admitted he now weighs 330 pounds. Last October—after an Internet crowd-sourcing campaign and investments from two meat-marketing specialists—Lutz relocated to a 93-seat space on a prime corner he calls “Collingswood’s Times Square.”
“Everyone told me I’d be a failure when I came out of jail, because of my previous life,” the 50-year-old told me. “But I’m driven. I have no children, no wife. I’m an only child with no parents. And I like being the center of attention.”
Lutz’s unique backstory can draw the curious only so many times. For sustained success, the kitchen has to pay off big time. Most of the time, it does. The traditional Italian-American menu was created by Lutz, who is executive chef, and lead chef Amberto Ponce. On my first visit, I ordered arancini—a ball of Arborio rice packed with peas, pancetta and mozzarella, deep-fried and drenched in a rich marinara sauce. It was so big I could have made it my entire dinner, and so delicious it was hard not to.
Equally massive and satisfying was the sausage meatball, a signature dish. Made of crumbled Maglio sweet sausage, it comes on sautéed broccoli rabe and long hot peppers in a white wine sauce with shaved provolone. Grilled romaine and seafood Caesar salad, a frequently run special, was subtly smoky from the grill and heaped with bay scallops, shrimp and lump crabmeat tossed in tangy Caesar dressing. P.E.I. mussels were small but plentiful, in a delicate marinara sauce. On the other hand, grilled polenta cakes were swamped in too much sausage marinara.
The Sunday Gravy entrée—sausage, meatballs, spare ribs and beef braciole in red sauce over rigatoni—was good but uncharacteristically small. Potato gnocchi stuffed with ricotta (Lutz said Severino Pasta in Westmont makes it exclusively for him) are served in a blush sauce with chopped fresh basil. A creamy pink vodka sauce coats seafood linguine, loaded with shrimp, scallops and crabmeat. Bolognese sauce gets its richness from sautéed carrots, celery, onion and a touch of cream mixed with beef, veal and pork and served over rigatoni. All pastas we tried were perfectly al dente.
An outstanding entrée, veal Luccia, topped sautéed medallions with mushrooms, eggplant, mozzarella and chopped tomatoes in a white wine butter sauce. A pork loin stuffed with sautéed peppers, broccoli rabe and sharp provolone in a garlicky white wine sauce made a fine special. The lemon sauce on chicken piccata was appropriately sprightly, but the sauce on veal Marsala, though made with Marsala wine, was rich yet lacked the sweetness of the Marsala.
Patsy Connors, who manages the restaurant and sometimes waits on tables, bakes Consigliere’s superb layer cakes. I didn’t think her coconut-custard cake could be beaten until I tried her dense walnut-carrot cake, amaretto cake and best of all, her panettone tower with mascarpone ice cream and blueberries.
Near the bathrooms, people pose for pictures in front of a police line-up backdrop. Corny, but I have to admit my group lined up for pictures. For food and fun, this Consigliere makes you an offer you can’t refuse.