By Bonnie Cavanaugh
Enzo’s Pizzeria on Route 46 has been a Budd Lake landmark for 42 years, opening its doors with an entirely homemade menu in 1976. The restaurant is run by Ernesto “Ernie” Buonincontri, who makes the pizza, and his wife, Vincy, the main chef. They serve foods reminiscent of their native Naples.
All the recipes have been handed down from Ernie Buonincontri’s parents, Emilio and Assunta, the original owners, who emigrated to the United States with their children, Ernie and his sister Anna, from Pouzzuoli, Italy—a suburb of Naples—in 1969. In a sense, they were returning to their homeland, as Buonincontri notes that his grandfather was born in Bridgeport, Conn., to an Italian immigrant family, and had returned to Naples to raise his own family.
nincontri’s father came to the U.S. alone, settling into Brooklyn, N.Y., before bringing his family over. A construction worker by trade, he quit the business after a serious fall from a three-story building. Not to be deterred, he purchased Enzo’s from “a friend of a friend” who’d built the store, but never opened it. The family kept the name Enzo’s in honor of a late son of the same name, who had passed in childhood.
The restaurant has seen quite a few changes over the years. W
hat started out as a small pizzeria has been expanded to include a dining area and a banquet room, and in total can seat about 120 customers. The neighborhood has changed as well.
“The area has grown a lot, in a good way,” Buonincontri says. He notes improvements to Turkey Brook Park, the township school system, and growth in the International Trade Zone, which, he adds, has brought Enzo’s additional business in the way of corporate luncheons.
The pizzeria’s menu has expanded as well. A listing of specialty pizza choices includes more diverse options, such as the Neapolitan, which is made with buffalo burrata (a fresh buffalo milk cheese, made with mozzarella and cream), basil, and marinara sauce, topped with arugula.
Another, the Toscana, features prosciutto, spicy sausage, soppressata (a type of dry salami), capicola, marinara, and is topped with shaved auricchio cheese, a type of a
ged provolone. The Abruzzo includes prosciutto, arugula, sliced tomato and a drizzled balsamic glaze. For seafood fans, the Amalfi is topped with shrimp and calamari in a fresh scampi sauce, with bruschetta tomato. All specialty pizzas are priced at $18 for a small pizza, $25 for large, and $31 for the “family” size.
A listing of authentic pizza selections are priced slightly lower, at $16 for small, $22 for large and $27 for ”family” size, and are more often sold as slices along with the standard pepperoni, sausage, or plain pies. These include self-described toppings such as Buffalo Chicken and Baked Ziti Pizza, as well as the more exotic, like the Bruschetta Balsamic, which features a balsamic crust topped with bruschetta, fresh mozzarella and basil.
There’s also the Vodka Pizza, which uses a homemade vodka sauce and shredded fresh mozzarella (pasta can be added for $3 on a small or $4 on a large size); and the Four Cheese, a sauce-less white pizza made with mozzarella, ricotta, cheddar and parmesan.
Additional toppings for all pizzas on the menu can be had for $1 apiece: garlic, extra cheese, broccoli rabe, prosciutto, anchovies, meatballs, the works.
“If we have it, we’ll put it on a pizza,” Buonincontri says.
The restaurant’s most popular entrees are its chicken and seafood dishes, he says. Chicken specialties include Pollo Piccata, chicken sautéed with lemon, capers and butter in a white wine sauce, at $18; Pollo Saltimbocca, chicken topped with prosciutto, fresh mozzarella and spinach, in a brown mushroom Madeira wine sauce, at $20; and Pollo Balsamico, chicken sautéed with shallots in a reduced balsamic vinegar and topped with pecorino Romano, at $19.
There’s also Pollo Vesuvio, chicken rolled up with spinach, cranberries, and gorgonzola cheese, in a madeira wine brown sauce and a touch of cream, at $22; Pollo Principessa, chicken served in a brandy brown mushroom sauce and topped with eggplant, prosciutto, sliced tomato and fresh mozzarella, at $23; and Pollo Valentino, chicken layered with eggplant and provolone served in a marina sauce, at $20.
Seafood dishes feature Mussels Marinara, sautéed mussels in a garlic seasoned plum tomato sauce, at $17; Broiled Scallops, served in a white wine, lemon and butter sauce, at $21; Marechiaro, jumbo shrimp and scallops served in a pink sauce, at $24; Zuppa di Pesce, a bowl of clams, shrimp, calamari, scungilli, scallops and mussels in a marinara and basil sauce, served over pasta, at $28; and Grilled Salmon, served in a caper white wine sauce, with a choice of garnished zucchini, asparagus or carrots (or pasta), at $23.
Other seafood entrees include Shrimp Franchese, shrimp dipped in egg batter and served in a white wine lemon sauce (also available with chicken), at $18; Pasta with Clams, steamed littleneck clams in a light marinara sauce (white sauce also available), at $18; and Seafood Alla Vodka, sautéed shrimp, crab meat, shiitake mushrooms, and asparagus in a vodka sauce, at $23.
“People like everything we make,” Buonincontri says, adding that all menu items are homemade. “We make all our sauces from old recipes from my mom and dad.”
That includes the daily specials, which can range from beef to seafood to lamb on any given day. On a recent weekday, the appetizer specials, or Antipasti, included four items: Shrimp Toast, made with crispy Italian bread and a layer of fresh avocado spread, topped with diced shrimp and bruschetta tomato, at $13; Shrimp Cocktail, shrimp served chilled with cocktail sauce and lemon, at $15; Ricotta di Honey, a platter of ricotta cheese with honey, sharp provolone, grana padana (a hard, semi-fat cheese made from cow’s milk produced only in the Po River Valley in Northern Italy), and with prosciutto, at $13; and Tropical Insalata, shrimp over spring mix salad with mango and papaya, topped with walnuts and goat cheese in a balsamic dressing, at $17.
Specialty entrees featured Porkchop Murphy, a 16 oz. French-cut pork chop sautéed with mushrooms, onion, bell peppers and banana peppers, with a side of roasted potato, at $27; Tilapia Franchese, egg-battered tilapia in a lemon sauce served over spinach, at $24; Tour of Italy, a combination plate of stuffed shells, meatball parmesan and fettucine alfredo, at $25; homemade Seafood Ravioli, served in a russo sauce (a specialty sauce made with plum tomatoes from Italy), with asparagus, at $26; homemade Beef Braised Ravioli, served in a mushroom beef reduction sauce, at $22; Lobster Risotto, fresh lobster meat sautéed with shallots and peas in a light cream sauce with a touch of marinara, at $27; and Lamb Alla Vincenza, rack of lamb served over roasted vegetables, drizzled with a balsamic glaze, at $28.
Buonincontri sources the ingredients for all of Enzo’s items from Ferraro Foods, a nationwide distributor of Italian foods based in Piscataway.
The restaurant has a liquor license, and diners may choose from a selection of beer and wine to have with their meals, or to buy as packaged goods to go. It’s all priced to please, Buonincontri says: “A little more than a liquor store, but better than restaurant pricing.”
Everything at Enzo’s is priced to be “family friendly,” he says. He has come to know many of his long-time customers by name and has served their children, as well as their children’s children, over the years. “They’re not customers anymore; they’re family.”
Enzo’s also serves an entire menu of gluten-free appetizers, entrees, kids’ meals, hot and cold sandwiches, and even pizza, featuring many of the restaurant’s popular dishes.
The only issue Enzo’s faces is in hiring and maintaining wait staff, which is common throughout the nationwide restaurant industry today. Other industries are struggling to hire younger workers as well: “There’s low unemployment and people pick and choose their jobs,” Buonincontri says. “It’s like everywhere else, not just in the restaurant industry.”
His three daughters have all worked as wait staff in the restaurant at one time or another before moving on to college and professional careers in the wealth management, real estate and pharmaceutical industries. His son currently works at Enzo’s.
The restaurant also provides a catering delivery service, and a special “Family Dinners To Go” menu that offers dinners that feed six people, priced at $45 each, for those nights when no one wants to cook. Enzo’s is open seven days a week and can be found on both Facebook and Instagram.