The dining public has become more educated about wine over the past few years, according to John Duva, owner of Pizzicato, a BYO in Marlton, at the Promenade shopping development. Duva first noticed the change when big bottles of pretty pink, but sticky-sweet, white zinfandel started disappearing from tabletops, only to be replaced by big, bold cabernet sauvignons, buttery, oaky chardonnays and unique international varietals.
It would seem that these educated consumers are encouraging the development of BYO restaurants to a certain extent. Southern New Jersey is home to a rapidly increasing number, many specializing in upscale cuisine and service. This is not to say that many restaurateurs wouldn't prefer to possess a liquor license, which can be difficult and expensive to obtain here in New Jersey. Some restaurateurs do view the lack of alcoholic beverage sales a hindrance, but many actually embrace the liquor-less concept, preferring to focus on food and service. Remarkably, many BYO restaurants offer a level of wine knowledge and service that compares to that of restaurants possessing liquor licenses. There are dozens of successful BYO restaurants in Camden, Gloucester and Burlington Counties. We've included just a few, all offering high quality cuisine and service.
The aforementioned Pizzicato, which is located in the chic, upscale Promenade Shopping Center on Route 73, features contemporary, creative Italian cuisine, and a sexy, sleek, and sophisticated atmosphere. Owner John Duva is delighted by the progressive trend in wine, since he believes good wine is an integral part of the dining experience. Duva is committed to providing his guests with everything they need to enjoy the wine they bring to his restaurant. "Our customers appreciate the wine service we offer and the respect that our employees show to their wine," he said.
Duva thinks, as many do, that fine stemware is part of the wine experience and actually adds to the enjoyment of wine. He provides high quality Schott-Zwiesel crystal wine glasses in appropriate shapes and sizes for different varietals, including champagne and aperitifs.
Servers receive four compulsory training sessions before assignment to evening service. During these classes, servers are educated in wine presentation, wine regions, varietals, and the taste of currently popular wines. Servers are schooled in wine and food pairings, and will make suggestions when customers ask for advice, although it's rarely necessary. "It doesn't seem like our customers are very hung up on wine pairings," Duva said. "They seem to prefer to bring in the wines that they enjoy drinking." Duva describes the cuisine at Pizzicato as esoteric and creative. He strives to offer dishes that are different from the mass-produced, predictable Italian cuisine that is so prevalent today. Pizzicato is open daily from 11am. Reservations are suggested especially on the weekends. The telephone number is (856) 396-0880.
Nunzio's, new in Collingswood, also features creative Italian cuisine that marries well with wine. The owner is Nunzio Patruno, formerly of the popular Monte Carlo Living Room in Philadelphia. The restaurant provides all of the necessary accoutrements for wine service such as good quality and amply-sized wine glasses, according to Pino Algeri, general manager. The staff is also prepared to make wine pairing suggestions.
The restaurant features a seven-course chef degustation menu, for which customers may wish to bring several different wines to share with a group. Generally, the feast includes an appetizer or two, pasta, salad, fish course, main meat course, dessert, complimentary limoncello, and coffee for $65 per person. Customers may also opt to dine at the chef's table in the kitchen (ten person maximum per evening) for $100 per person. Menu selections are always a surprise, based on market availability and Chef Patruno's creativity in the kitchen.
The restaurant's décor is elegant, yet cozy and comfortable, according to Algeri. The room resembles an outdoor piazza in Italy, with a fountain, tile floors, skylights and painted murals. In fact, Algeri said that Patruno chose Collingswood because the quaint, small town, which is currently undergoing rapid revitalization, reminds him of Italy. The restaurant is open seven days a week and is located at 706 Haddon Avenue. The telephone number is (856) 858-9840. www.nunzioristoranterustico.com
Anthony's in Haddon Heights is also committed to excellence in wine service, and even hosts educational wine dinners on a regular basis. A consultant provides wines that pair with dishes selected by owners Anthony Iannone and Chef John Pilarz. Approximately five wines are sampled and explained during these special multi-course dinners, which cost $75 per person.
Anthony's provides a temperature-controlled wine cabinet as a convenience for guests and many bring in multiple bottles to be stored. "Our customers enjoy BYO restaurants," Iannone said. "They have the option of bringing in several types of wine, especially when dining on the weekend, when they want to linger." Anthony's will roll out its spring/summer menu in late May. During the warmer months, Chef Pilarz focuses on seasonal ingredients and lighter fare, such as veal instead of beef, cold soups, and salads prepared with fresh local produce.
Iannone is always prepared to offer wine pairing suggestions and wants staff members to be able to do the same. "I encourage my employees to learn about wine," he said. "I have presented training sessions in the past and conduct tastings to educate my employees." Anthony's is open Tuesday through Saturday and is located at 512 Station Avenue. The telephone number is (856) 310-7766.
Wine is also an important part of the meal at Bacio, a casually elegant BYO that opened in Cinnaminson shortly before Valentine's Day. Chef and co-owner Robert Minniti believes that while BYO restaurants are great for wine collectors, the average diner often finds it inconvenient to stop at a wine shop before dinner to purchase a bottle. He also says that he feels frustrated when diners who wish to linger run out of wine before the end of the dining experience. To that end, Minniti is working with a local winery, through a special program that allows BYO restaurants to sell wines produced here in the Garden State.
This program would not prevent people from carrying in wine, according to Minniti, but would allow him to provide an additional level of service, and in anticipation of this program, Minniti bought high quality stemware when outfitting the new restaurant. "I spent a lot of money on good glasses," he said. "There is no substitute for a proper wine glass, it adds to the enjoyment of wine."
Minniti, previously the chef at Florentino's, the Italian restaurant at Harrah's in Atlantic City, offers a menu based on authentic Italian dishes, and doesn't necessarily recommend Italian wines to pair with the food. "When wine is served in Italy, generally they are wines that are made specifically to pair with the regional cuisine," he said. "In America, it's more flexible, and we work to demystify the wine experience." Minniti says that wine shouldn't be intimidating, and encourages his customers to trust their instincts. "I ask them what kind of wine they like and suggest they purchase that," he said. "More often than not, it marries well with the foods they enjoy eating."
Bacio is open for dinner from 5pm every day but Tuesday, and is located at 2806 Route 130 North. The telephone number is (856) 303-9100.
Published in South Jersey Magazine, May 2004. For more info on South Jersey Magazine, click here. To subscribe to South Jersey Magazine, click here. To advertise in South Jersey Magazine, click here. To find out where to pick up your free copy of South Jersey Magazine, click here.