By Jerry Price
The New Jersey shore has a tremendous attraction for New Yorkers, especially family gatherings and vacations. The “getaway” is an easy drive from Manhattan and the clean, white sand and rippling waters set a tone that calls out to those seeking to decompress.
The sand and beach have their own pull on visitors, but that alone isn’t enough. You can feed the soul but at some point in time you have to feed the body. Little Italy Restaurant stands ready to do that.
One of the more popular eateries “Down the Shore,” Little Italy offers an authentic Italian look combined with true Italian cuisine. Giovanni Sanzone has made it a personal mission to remain true to the food he knew and grew up with.
“I learned to prepare food from my mother and grandmother,” Giovanni says. “I began as a child watching them cook. I never took formal lessons but I learned from experts who planned meals with love and care because they were serving the family.”
Giovanni was born in Switzerland, but raised in Sicily. Like many Italians, his family migrated to the United States looking for a better life. In 1985 the Sanzone family made the exodus and opened a pizza restaurant.
Giovanni worked there for 11 years before venturing off on his own, opening Little Italy in the Wildwoods, an area growing in popularity at the time.
“We’ve had good fortune this year,” he said. “The weather has been nice…a lot warmer than it was last year. People have come to the restaurant from New York City, Philadelphia, even Canada. We seat 250 diners and turn over three times. That’s more than 700 people a night.”
Giovanni smiled as he talked about how patrons line up in the street waiting for the opportunity to be seated and dig into his authentic cuisine.
“I don’t know, maybe I would have liked to go to school,” he mused. “Maybe it would have made things easier but I was always working. I was never able to go to one of the culinary schools but I have an excellent and rounded background. I’ve been doing this for 30 years.”
Giovanni notes that his raw bar and clams on the half shell are amongst the most popular items on the menu.
“People also look for our oysters, Caesar salad and shrimp cocktail,” he said. “The Alaskan crab is a pretty popular item as well.” One of the offerings, the “Tour of Italy,” has gained tremendous popularity. It features gnocchi, meatballs, ravioli, sausage meatballs and stuffed shells. It’s the closest thing to sitting down in Rome for a well-rounded meal.
Giovanni and his wife, Sandy, oversee every part of the operation. It’s the hands-on approach and personal touch that ensures the quality of the food they serve. Michael Schulz, best friend and dining room manager has elegantly run the dining area for many years.
Guests return week after week and year after year with Giovanni able to welcome them by name and as family. The focal point of any Italian family is food and the dining room table. Little Italy has become an extension of that homey tradition.
Giovanni experiments with food in order to create new and exciting dishes. In addition to bruschetta and antipasto, he has created Penne alla Giovanni, a white creamy sauce with broccoli, red pepper, garlic, sun dried tomato and grilled chicken over penne.
If the food prepared at Little Italy is authentic Italian, desserts are even more so. Virtually all of Giovanni’s desserts are imported from Italy, more specifically, Milan. His tiramisu is on the rather large size and will satisfy most of the people around the table.
Giovanni imagined a restaurant that would give his guests the feeling of being in Italy. He wanted to provide his Wildwood friends and neighbors with the tastes and senses of traditional Italian cooking; a family oriented restaurant that would be welcoming to adults and children alike.
5401 Atlantic Avenue
Wildwood Crest, NJ