I’ve always believed you could judge a restaurant by its bread and butter (or olive oil, as the case may be). If a culinary team pays attention to the simplest of dishes, and does so with excellence, you can trust them to deliver on the most complex dishes. Therefore, as soon as our waiter dropped off the homemade bread for our dinner at Locanda – an olive oil focaccia with rosemary and sea salt and its accompanying olive oil mixed with Pecorino Romano, parmesan cheese, and a dash of red pepper flakes – I knew we were in for a great meal.
Locanda opened in November of 2019, in the space attached to the Holiday Inn off of Route 1 (if you reach the Crossing at the Tower plaza, you’ve gone too far). Although connected to the hotel – a trip to the restroom will confirm that – the two are not affiliated. Owned by cousins Frank Recupero, Joe Delle Cave, and Dino Passaretta, their vision was to create a restaurant that served high-quality Italian food without pretension. “Our food is top notch,” says general manager, Don Poissant, “but we wanted it to be casual.” The dining space, though elegant with its flowery chandeliers, is full of trinkets and oil paintings that are meant to evoke a sense of Grandma’s house.
Speaking of Grandma, the ingredients are sourced from Italy, using recipes that have been handed down within the family, but there’s also an inventiveness to the dishes. You won’t find the familiar chicken parm here, but instead handmade gnocchi with a “butcher’s ragu” of pork, pancetta, tomato, oregano, and pecorino. “We’re doing something different,” Poissant admits, “but so far no one’s complained.”
As part of their commitment to remaining contemporary, the beverage list includes handcrafted mocktails for the sober minded and sober curious. Try the “zero-proof” Nero Minded (Seedlip Garden, lemon, black currant, Peychaud’s bitters) if you want a delicious alternative to the gin and Campari version.
My best advice is to arrive with an appetite because you’re going to want to order everything on the menu. From the Olive Oil Cake made with whole pistachios and a blood orange zabaglione to the Fontina Stuffed Meatballs in Sugo, you might be promising your first born child in exchange for more (or maybe that was just me?). The dishes are simply divine, and though it will be hard to do, I recommend saving room for dessert. The “Bananamisu,” a traditional tiramisu topped with white chocolate mocha-brûlée bananas, is only one of their sweet finishing notes.
Locanda has been open for just over a year, but how can you really measure 2020? At press time, they offer indoor dining by reservation so call first and be sure to wear a mask. To-go orders are available, too. What else can I say? The proof is in the pudding, or in this case, in the bread and olive oil.