If you haven’t visited Antimo’s Italian Kitchen in Hopewell, I urge you to do so. Once or twice a year I’ll meet my friend Marie there, because her husband, Nino Galastro, is the Executive Pasta Chef at Antimo Iovine’s restaurant. I love to catch up with Marie; it seemed that when we first met we were quite “simpatico” right off the bat.
In the last year, Antimo has expanded his space to include a second dining room, and over the years he’s developed and expanded his repertoire from mostly pizza and Italian-American standards to more ambitious fare (although you can still get pizza and when I met another friend there for lunch one day, I enjoyed my individual pizza). The atmosphere is always pleasant, this evening there were nice Italian standards on the sound system, and much of his staff has been with him for years – always a good sign.
Anyway, on this visit we started with arancini. crispy fried risotto balls. Now, I generally prefer the ones with just a chunk of melted cheese in the middle. Antimo’s are more classic southern Italian, though, the kind with meat and peas inside. But his are slightly different, instead of a pocket of ground meat and peas in the center, he mixes the meat and peas with the rice and cheese before forming the balls. I liked this much better! They were fried to a perfect crispness with nary a hint of oil and served with his bright tomato sauce on the side. I restrained myself to eating just one, but it wasn’t easy. (We had begged them for small portions as we ordered, but Marie still had our leftovers to take home.)
Then we had two of Nino’s pastas (greedy of us!), lovely pumpkin ravioli with brown butter and fried sage, and pappardelle with house made sausage and Sambuca cream sauce. That had shallots in it, little slivers of sweetness that really added to the luxuriousness of this dish. I don’t usually order pasta with cream sauces, but I have to say this was fantastic.
Lastly, we had simple grilled salmon with garlicky spinach on the side – virtuous, right?
Oh, and they brought us some rich house made pumpkin gelato, but I was too full to finish it – yes, that really happens.
Antimo’s menu is somewhat smaller than it used to be, and that’s a good thing, when I see so many pages on a menu, I start to wonder how they can do justice to it all (usually they can’t). And now there’s a sheet of seasonal specials tucked inside it, just as specials should be. Their website is good, and even the specials are online, a very smart move more restaurants should aspire to. The lunch menu consists of pizzas, salads, panini, wraps, hot and cold subs, and burgers, and they’ll cater most of these things too. (There’s also a take out menu, of the items that will travel the best.). This is a casual family-friendly destination, open every day for lunch and dinner. On the weekend, you’d want to make a reservation. It’s also a favorite of some other local restaurateurs, who like to settle in on their night off and let someone else wait on them for a change!
In the spirit of full disclosure, since Antimo knows me – and obviously Marie – he never lets me pay for my dinner, so I make sure to leave a tip for the staff and any leftover vino behind (they’re BYO, or you can purchase Unionville wine by the bottle). I do not give my praise lightly, in any case, but think the reader should know. Lately, I see so many “reviews” online at various websites that are not associated with print media, and it’s sometimes a mystery to me as to whether the writer’s visit was anonymous or comped, or whatever. I have resolved to be as transparent as possible, because I think the reader should know. I’m even asking my editor over at the Packet to add a note to my reviews that they are anonymous, which means that I don’t use my name when I make a reservation and do not tell them it’s a review dinner when I dine, although I do usually call to check a detail or two before I turn in my review, so I tell them then.