Cavallino Nero is a home-style Italian restaurant run by the Cassara family, celebrating 20 years in the business.
One of things we like most about this gig is being afforded the opportunity to recognize well-run independent, family-owned and operated restaurants.
We like to call them our “hidden gems” and the Atlantic City region, despite a current top-heavy roster of star chef-power, remains liberally sprinkled with them.
One of the foremost among these is Mays Landing’s Cavallino Nero. Located on a woodsy stretch of Route 322 just beyond the sprawl of the Hamilton Mall and its associated retail entities, Cavallino Nero has known only one owner, Vito Cassara and family. Along with wife Kathleen, the Sicilian native celebrated a significant milestone recently — 20 years in business as of June 6.
Born in the scenic coastal town of Castellammare — “Fortress by the Sea” in Italian — Cassara began a culinary career there while still a teenager at an facility called “Oasis De Golfo.” Those humble beginnings “bussing, serving, making pizza” led to arrival stateside, and him working alongside brother Andre at Brigantine’s Pizza Palace eatery for 10 years prior to Cavallino Nero’s inception.
He goes on to explain that the name of his restaurant derives from former glory days at the nearby Atlantic City Race Course, with Cavallino Nero translating as “little black horse.” Building a solid reputation for southern Italian food and pizza in an authentic trattoria environment, the Cassara enterprise thrived despite being a bit under the radar for many. As they enter their third decade, we sincerely hope that will change.
House specialties include some of the very best gnocchi we’ve ever sampled, along with a distinctively Sicilian sauce called “ammoglia.” Loaded with plenty of garlic, tomatoes and olive oil, its real magic derives via the addition of almonds and pecorino Romano cheese.
Those not familiar with Sicilian cooking tradition might think it an odd pairing, but that island’s cuisine has been shaped by the disparate influences of both Spain and nearby northern Africa along with mainland Italy.
While always popular on pasta dishes, Cassara particularly encourages diners to sample “ammoglia” with grilled steaks as well. Other favorites include the house-made tortelloni, manicotti and a rolled pasta called involtini, stuffed with a ricotta cheese blend. Cassara goes on to recommend that particular entrée — as well the lobster ravioli — be sampled with a vodka blush sauce.
While breaking news this spring has emanated from the northern end of Atlantic City’s boards, there is another story — no less compelling — being written from the opposite terminus. That would be the rebranding/repositioning of the Atlantic Club casino.
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