Jesse Fried • Dec 21, 2017
Nutley is a suburban town in northeastern Essex County. It's an "inner-ring" suburb, a nice town that borders some dense and gritty old urban/surburban development on three sides, along the lower Passaic River's industrial corridor. These surroundings, I feel, give it an especially Jersey vibe.
It's considered the most Italian town in New Jersey.
A visit to Nutley in search of Italian food was sadly disappointing. The downtown strip along Franklin Avenue is full of restaurants, bakeries, and delis. Maybe we made the wrong choices when we went, but we found that the quality of the food was lacking, in comparison to other Italian food of the author's experience at the shore, in Hoboken and JC, and elsewhere in the greater metro area.
The bakery we went to first looked promising but the cookies had poor texture and flavor. A teenager behind the counter who seemed to have an understanding of Nutley's restaurant scene gave us some recommendations. After deciding between a few, she said "you have to go to Ralph's." At Ralph's the food was salty and the ingredients seemed low quality. The atmosphere was quiet, formal and stuffy, to the point where my friend actually started to feel sick towards the end of the meal and needed fresh air. It was rather expensive for what it was.
True there were many other restaurants, so I shouldn't judge based on one, but it seemed to me that if you take any culture, however vibrant and however good its food, and move it into a suburban North Jersey town, it starts to get a bit watered down.
I'm only so disappointed because I've had such wonderful experiences with NJ Italian food that have forged my culinary identity. The Hoboken mozzarella and breads of my youth, some of the best baked goods I've ever had in Bradley Beach, the ecstasy of eating a decadent "Italian combo" sub under the hot sun at Point Pleasant, etc. etc. Also I have to admit that Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx have some OK Italian food too. In spite of the Nutley setback, I resolve to continue to seek out the delicious, soulful foods of NJ, Italian and otherwise.