By Bonnie Cavanaugh
Amore Ristorante, a popular Italian family restaurant in Woodland Park, has launched a new menu and new hours of operation to coincide with the fall season. The restaurant, which has made its home on Rifle Camp Road for the past four years, revamped the menu to add new creations and will now welcome guests for lunch on Saturdays. The changes began Oct. 6.
Amore features Southern Italian cuisine with dishes hailing from the Naples area down to Sicily. It’s a fam
ily affair, with Chef-Owner Jerry Luciano cooking and creating the menu, and his son-in-law, co-owner Roberto Arcucci, providing all of the front-of-the-house operations. The dishes hail from old family r
ecipes, many of which go back to Arcucci’s home town of Avellino, Italy—near the “boot”—and Luciano’s Italian home town of Capri.
The changes at Amore are to please customers who’ve asked for Saturday lunches, Arcucci says. They’re also looking for more exciting entrees, and so Luciano took away a few older menu items and replaced them with newer entrees to keep guests excited.
Diners are also increasingly looking for restaurant fare that allows them to dine out while adhering to specialized diets.
“A lot of people ask for gluten-free dishes, and for a lot of them, it’s not an option: they have a
condition,” Arcucci says. Amore is working hard to accommodate them.
“We try to be different. There are so many places out there,” he says, noting that people need a reason to come to Amore over another restaurant. So he and Luciano initially gave customers a few gluten-free options, and are working to make them bigger and better.
“Now we’re getting more creative,” Arucci says.
They’ve already launched gluten-free pasta and breadcrumbs, and desserts such as chocolate cake and cheesecake, and are working on bringing in breads and rolls. Customers are also asking for more vegan fare. Creating vegan dishes is a little harder, but Amore does offer vegan bread, bruschetta, pasta, and even cheesecake—which it gets at the local Fairway market, for now.
The restaurant will only raise its prices for gluten-free or vegan options if the ingredients cost them more than their usual supplies, Arcucci says. For instance, gluten-free Panko breadcrumbs are pricey, at $5.99 for 12 oz., so that price would be passed along to the customer. Otherwise, the restaurant is happy to recreate any of its menu items as vegan or gluten-free dishes for the same price.
As for the entrees that were removed from the new menu, customers needn’t worry; they can always ask for them. If the ingredients are on hand, the restaurant will make it. It’s the same for customers who see a dish on Amore’s Instagram page, but may not see it on the menu.
Arcucci says, “If we have it, we can make it.”
Luciano started the business 32 years ago as a small pizzeria and restaurant on Union Blvd. in Totowa, which he describes as a “small hallway with a few tables.” Today, Amore seats up to 90 guests and hosts onsite banquets for up to 50. It also caters to local businesses.
Luciano is a self-taught chef who reads cookbooks to learn the craft, having started out his career at age 14 with Sun Ray Pizza in Paterson. His wife, Pina, usually crafts the desserts but has taken time off recently to recover from illness. They eagerly await her return.
Luciano changes the Amore menu about every three to four years, and adds seasonal specials as food items become available. Many of his ingredients are imported from Italy through his major supplier, Restaurant Depot in Hackensack, and the restaurant shops for fresh ingredients daily.
Freshness is key to delivering the best meals for his clientele, Arcucci says. All foods are cooked daily so there is no onsite storage for pre-cooked meals.
“Our customers know our food is cooked to service,” Arcucci says, “It takes a little time but it’s worth it.”
The restaurant was packed nearly to capacity on a recent Tuesday night; Thursday through the weekend are the busiest nights, he says.
Appetizer specials included Stuffed Artichoke, baked with Parmesan breadcrumb stuffing, with olives and a white wine sauce; Ginger Calamari, tender rings of calamari breaded and seasoned with ginger, with diced tomatoes and scallions; and Flatbread with Prosciutto, made with mozzarella and arugula.
Two new salads appear on the revamped menu: a Caesar Salad, featuring Romaine lettuce tossed with homemade dressing, crouton and Parmesan cheese, at $8.95; and, Orange and Fennel Salad, served with red onions and black olives in a white balsamic vinegar dressing, at $11.95.
These items join four other favorites: Insalate della Casa, the house salad, featuring mixed greens with tomato, onions and a house vinaigrette, at $7.95; Insalate Tricolore, with endive, radicchio and arugula served in olive oil and lemon juice dressing and topped with Parmesan cheese, at $9.95; Insalate Rustica, a Romains salad with sundried tomatoes, roasted peppers, fresh mozzarella, marinated artichokes, red onions, and tossed with a house vinaigrette dressing, at $11.95; and, Insalate di Pere, mixed greens with pear slices and caramelized walnuts in a Dijon mustard vinaigrette, and topped with crumbled blue cheese, at $9.95.
The appetizer menu includes 10 new items and three standards. The new Antipasti items include: Antipasto Amore, assorted cold cuts served with mozzarella, olives and roasted red peppers, at $13.95; Shrimp Padella, shrimp sautéed in lemon butter sauce with pepper flakes, at $13.95; Calamari Balsamico, fried calamari tossed with a balsamic glaze and buffalo sauce, topped with chopped tomatoes and scallions, at $16.95; Eggplant Rollantini, stuffed with ricotta, mushrooms, scallions and Parmesan cheese, and topped with a light tomato sauce, at $10.95; Hot Peppers Della Casa, featuring hot Italian finger peppers with fried potatoes, fried prosciutto and sausage meat, with provolone cheese, at $17.95; and Polpette della Nonna, homemade meatballs in a red sauce, topped with melted cheese and served with toasted bread, at $11.95.
New pasta selections include Orecchiette Amore, homemade pasta—small, shell-like pasta—with shrimp and New Zealand clams on the shell, with broccoli rabe, white beans and cherry tomatoes in a white wine and garlic sauce, at $23.95; Lasagna della Nonna, a traditional serving of Nonna Pina’s own recipe with ricotta, meat sauce and mozzarella, at $20.95; Linguine Vongole, New Zealand clams on the shell over linguine with a choice of sauces—white wine, red, or spicy garlic—at $21.95; Pappardelle alla Norma, featuring fresh pappardelle—long, flat, wide noodles—with eggplant, plump tomatoes, onions and basil, and topped with ricotta salata, at $20.95; and, Orecchiette con Braciole, fresh pasta with beef braciola stuffed with parsley, garlic, Parmesan cheese and black pepper, in a red sauce, at $22.95.
A new chicken entrée is Pollo Paesano, featuring chunks of chicken breast sautéed with bacon, escarole and cannellini beans, in a white wine and garlic sauce, at $21.95. Two new veal dishes include Veal Giuliana, medallions of veal topped with prosciutto, fontina cheese and shrimp, sautéed in a cognac and green peppercorn sauce with sage, at $24.95; and, Veal Barone, breaded veal topped with sautéed broccoli rabe and shrimp, also at $24.95.
Two new fish entrees are Salmon Nut Crusted, featuring salmon served over asparagus in a white wine and garlic sauce, with cherry tomatoes and shiitake mushrooms, at $27.95, and, Shrimp Fra Diavolo, sautéed shrimp, mussels and clams over linguine in a spicy red sauce, at $26.95. A new meat entrée addition is Pork Chop with Shrimp, featuring a grilled pork shop and shrimp served in a garlic sauce, at $26.95.
Arcucci’s future plans for the restaurant include finding “a nice, gluten-free dinner roll” to serve, and to keep upgrading the menu with the changing times.
“I would like to take this place to another level,” he adds.
Amore Ristorante is open seven days a week, Monday through Thursday from noon to 10 p.m.; noon to 11 p.m. on Friday; noon to 11 p.m. on Saturday; and 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday. Reservations are recommended, especially on weekends.