|A Little Bit of Italy on the Jersey ShoreWith commentary from Rick Piancone, Owner/Operator of Johnny Piancone’s in Long Branch, New Jersey
In 1955, two brothers changed the way the New Jersey Shore viewed Italian Cuisine. Louis and John Piancone found a spot in Bradley Beach to open a deli. The deli grew into an Italian Specialties shop and bakery that became the go-to destination for all things Italian down the shore. By 1991, after almost 40 years and a second generation, John and his four children – Rick, Chip, Donna, and Anna – opened a family restaurant adjacent to the deli. They named it La Nonna Piancone’s Café, to commemorate their family’s matriarch.ABOVE: The Original La Nonna Piancone’s Café, in Bradley Beach, New Jersey.
After 15 years running a popular local restaurant that offered a taste of Italy to locals and guests from all over, the opportunity presented itself for the family to take a break and in 2006; the family sold their restaurant and took some time to explore their roots. “We all needed a break; so we took some time travelling all over Italy. We visited artisan cheese makers, and boutique olive oil manufacturers. We thoroughly enjoyed the time off traveling” commented Johnny “Rick” Piancone. Inevitably though, when the urge to reestablish his business took hold; this man, who had spent his life in a kitchen, would once again make some sizzle. ingredients. “Aside from our delectable salad offerings, we have whole-wheat pasta dishes, risottos, polenta, fava beans and broccoli rabe.”
ABOVE: Braised Pork Osso Bucco is Johnny Piancone’s most popular dish to date.
|Rick commented that “once it’s in your blood, it doesn’t go away.”
Soon after, the Piancone’s got a call about a restaurant space available in nearby Long Branch. Rick envisioned an intimate little restaurant that would mesh well with its surroundings. “We liked the location, the space, and the general vibe of Long Branch” said Rick when asked about the new digs. He would create a casual atmosphere and offer fare that was nothing short of exquisite. As if by destiny Rick found his friends and former associates also at the ready – Larry Kennedy, the original Chef of La Nonna Piancone’s Café, would take the helm in the kitchen; and former bar manager, Mike Watson, would lead the house. With an expert team and a shared desire in place, Rick and company could now make magic at the new Johnny Piancone’s, which opened its doors in November, 2009.
Open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, Johnny Piancone’s welcomes guests into a warm, exposed-brick dining room and an elegant copper-topped bar. The downstairs dining room has a tier with a few tables by the windows; has high ceilings and walls framed with well-suited artwork and lighting fixtures; and can accommodate up to sixty guests. The second floor, a dining room with a lounge-like atmosphere is outfitted with more dining tables as well as marble-topped high tables, sumptuous leather sofas, and a long elegant bar and can accommodate seventy guests. The deep wood tones upstairs are brightened by the wealth of natural light flowing in from floor-to-ceiling windows and wide-screen plasma televisions hung on the walls by the bar area.
So what can guests expect from their visit to Johnny Piancone’s? Well, Rick’s travels throughout Italy are boldly evident in his menu. He forged relationships with the small farms and manufacturers he met while in Italy and brought home delights that can be experienced by all. “We have our own Piancone-labeled olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and some pasta directly from these wonderful Italian farms. In house, we make our own fresh mozzarella every hour and hand-roast our vegetables including our popular long-stemmed artichokes” added Rick. And with an appreciation of health conscious cooking and studies of Mediterranean diets, Johnny Piancone’s offers guests healthy, nutrient-rich If you happen to save any room for dessert – and I strongly urge you to do so – prepare yourself for ecstasy. Choose from a variety of homemade ice-cream, cakes and pastries that change weekly. Enjoy traditional Italian favorites like cheese cakes, cannoli, and biscotti paired with espresso, cappuccino, or your favorite cordial. With a grin, Rick added “we’re also making our own gelatos like pistachio.”
The future for this restaurant will include wine pairing dinners and a rebirth of the original La Nonna’s Table. What exactly is that, you ask? Rick explains “in Italy, families invite friends to eat at long tables where they sit, eat, talk and laugh for hours. We are planning to set up a fifty-foot table to seat sixty people, one night each month. Guests will come by reservation for a chef’s choice, twelve-course, four-hour dinner with wine bottles to share at the table and Italian music in the air. Like an Italian Wedding festival, the food will keep coming! We want our diners to have a true Italian dining experience with laughter and all.” Furthermore, this place is perfect for events of all sorts. The full-service bars and the scrumptious foods are certain to wow all your guests. “The upstairs area is perfect for private parties like Christenings, Rehearsal Dinners, and Birthday parties…really any celebration” says Rick. “We are also lining up some musical entertainment for the lounge area next year.”
For those who want to socialize after work, Johnny Piancone’s has a terrific happy hour Monday through Friday from 2:00pm to 7:00pm; guests can enjoy any appetizer and a selection of drinks for only five dollars.
There is a certain something in the air at Piancone’s. All around, you get the sense that this restaurant and these people appreciate your company and enjoyment. Rick thinks the atmosphere is largely owed to his state of mind. “You know, I’ve been in the restaurant business for a long time and I still have a passion for it. The difference this time is that I’m more relaxed. The stress,” as he puts it “just seems to roll off my back.” For diners, Rick and his staff, this renaissance of the Piancone family restaurant has been a pleasure – an experience that awakens all senses. And whether you’re hunting for a hearty lunch, craving something casual with a friend, or an intimate dinner date, stop by Johnny Piancone’s: this family waiting to serve you.