Fact: There can never be too many spots for great Italian food in New Jersey.
Yeah sure, some joke that you could throw a dart in the air at random and you’d probably hit a pizzeria in New Jersey, but that doesn’t mean all are worthy of eating a meal at. But this one is. It’s in Egg Harbor City and it’s called Gennaro’s Italian Grille and Pizzeria.
A casual eatery, Gennaro’s opened for business in the former spot of Mario’s Uptown Grill on Philadelphia Avenue one year ago and has been serving up top-notch Italian specialties ever since.
The setup at Gennaro’s is precisely what the name describes. Its look is that of a pizzeria with a bit more personality and a lot more seating. Glass-topped tables line the main dining area, and there is waitress service, but those looking to grab a quick slice on the go can easily walk up to the front counter and do so. It’s a spot where you would feel equally comfortable going out for a nice dinner with the family as you would stopping in for a quick bite on your lunch break.
“We took the pizzeria concept and expanded upon it,” says Joe DeGennaro, owner of Gennaro’s Italian Grille and Pizzeria.
Décor is simple, yet pleasant enough, and the entire space manages to exude a welcoming, familiar vibe. It may only be a year old, but somehow it feels like a part of the fabric of Egg Harbor City. It could easily become your go-to spot for one of those laid-back Friday night dinners when nobody feels like cooking.
“I’ve been a chef for 30 years, but it’s nice to finally have my own place,” DeGennaro says. One might imagine that after three decades of working for someone else, this would be a great way to reduce one’s stress level.
“Well, it’s nice, but I wouldn’t say it’s stress free. It’s just a different type of stress,” DeGennaro says with a laugh.
Though DeGennaro is a Jersey boy, his skills in the kitchen have taken him around the world and even afforded him the opportunity to live in wat many people would consider “paradise.”
“I went to the Virgin Islands for like 15 years,” he says. “I worked on St. Thomas and St John. It’s a great place to live, but there was better opportunities for my kids here in New Jersey, so I came back home.”
When DeGennaro returned from his island paradise, he took the helm as executive chef of Renault Winery, a job he held for nearly 20 years before leaving to open Gennaro’s last year.
“I don’t do anything crazy, it’s just comfort food,” DeGennarro says. While that may be true in some ways — the menu items at Gennaro’s are all recognizable to the average non-foodie-it’s the flavors and passion that go into each dish that makes them stand out.
The cavatelli with Italian sausage, broccoli rabe, garlic and olive oil is not only delicious, but it also happens to be DeGennaro’s personal favorite dish on the menu. It’s easy to see why, as the perfectly al dente pasta dish was bursting with garlicky goodness, while still maintaining the balance of the overall flavor profile. Other standout dishes include the shrimp and crab alfredo ($19.95) which is served with spinach over fettucine, and the Sunday gravy – a special that will instantly make you feel like you are at your grandmother’s dining room table, with its mix of meatballs, sausage and braciole served with a red sauce over spaghetti.
Of course there is also a full lineup of pizzas, which run the gamut from the traditional options like cheese, pepperoni, mushroom and sausage to the more exotic, such as the eggplant rollatini pie or their Hawaiian pie, which subs out the usual ham for bacon and adds pineapple and a sweet chili barbecue sauce. In addition to pizzas and pastas, there are house specialties including chicken marsala ($15.95) and eggplant parmigiana ($15.50) alongside the usual lineup of hot and cold subs, soups, salads and appetizers that you might expect to find at any local Italian restaurant.
What you wouldn’t expect to find at most Italian restaurants is the list of gourmet burgers that Gennaro’s offers. What’s even more surprising is that they aren’t just an afterthought or something thrown on the menu to appease the kids, these are the real deal – half-pound patties made fresh on site served on a Kaiser roll with lettuce, tomato, pickles and raw or fried onions. They come with various options for toppings including bacon, mushroom and Swiss cheese, among others.
“We just put them on the menu recently and they have really taken off,” DeGennaro says. “We do a lot of American-style cuisine in addition to the Italian food.”