Andreas Ristorante Italiano, tucked away in a strip mall in Waldwick, has been called one of Bergen County’s best kept dining secrets. But judging by the couples and families streaming in on a Friday night, a lot of people know the secret.
“We don’t advertise,” owner Ben Mansueto admits. “My dad named the restaurant after himself and opened in one store front in 1984. The response was overwhelming and we took over the store next door six months later.”
Mansueto describes himself as a third generation chef, crediting his late grandmother Anna, who immigrated from Sicily, with starting the family’s line of chefs. He recalls when he, Anna and Andreas all worked in the kitchen, arguing over techniques and recipes. Ben took over in 1998.
“Couples who came as kids are now coming in with their own kids,” he said. “We have a casual environment with a fine dining menu.”
It is also a unique environment with frescoes painted a quarter century ago by a New York artist on the roughly plastered, soft yellow walls of both rooms. “Over the years we have changed the carpet, the chairs and a lot of other things but never the walls,” Mansueto said. And the waiters still wear black tie just as they did when the restaurant first opened.
We visited recently with friends for a belated birthday celebration and had a nice corner table that facilitated conversation. The menu is classic Italian with nightly specials. It’s not inexpensive but the portions are large and entrees come with a house salad.
There is complimentary bruschetta to start and we also ordered a plate of fried zucchini for the table. The zucchini sticks were large, shaped liked regular fries, not matchsticks, and while they were not really crisp, they tasted fine and quickly disappeared. The house salads were like all house salads, not particularly interesting. But there were some attractive options for $7.95 more, including an arugula and wild mushroom salad that I found tempting.
Despite my pleas to order different entrees so I could sample them, both men in the party decided on veal Milanese with salad and these were beautiful dishes, thin crispy slices of veal and a generous salad. The very large portions required doggie bags. My partner insisted the veal was just as good the next day.
My friend ordered one of the night’s specials, salmon with mustard sauce and spinach. It was a nice looking dish but she found the sauce overwhelming and asked that some of it be taken off the plate. Since, as a rule, I like sauces and love any kind of mustard, I probably would not have had a problem with it, but if you only like a small amount or aren’t sure about a sauce, there’s no harm in asking for it on the side.
I went with one of the house specialties, shrimp, penne and peas in a vodka sauce which I thought was a bit pricey at $25.95, but it was a very large serving and had a lot of shrimp plus a really nice vodka sauce. With the cost of the salad deducted, it would fall into the usual range for a simple pasta with vodka sauce.
We finished off with the classic tartufo, the four of us splitting two of them. But in retrospect, we should have tried a Napoleon. Mansueto told me later that all pastries are made on the premises and we should have split two Napoleons instead of two tartufos which “you can get in any Italian restaurant.” (True, but some are better than others and Andreas’ is very nice.)
Mansueto went to Italy to study desserts so there is a tempting list. But there were excellent complimentary chocolate bananas and biscotti at the end of the meal, so technically, you could skip dessert. (But next time I’m trying that Napoleon.)
My one disappointment was the cappuccino I ordered. It tasted thin and bland to me. But Andreas’ food still gets the stars the New York Times gave it back in 1986.
And while food is the main attraction, Andreas may be worth a visit just to enjoy the frescoes on the walls. There’s a scene from the family’s hometown, Sterracavallo, a seaside suburb of Palermo, as well as fruit baskets and vegetables, flowers and grapes. Unfortunately, younger family members can no longer remember the name of the artist except that his name was Steve and that until he died, he came out from the city once a year to touch up his work.
Food: Very Good
Service: Very good
Child Friendly: Yes (high chairs available)
Entrée price range: $14.95 - $28.95
Reservations suggested on weekends, (201)-670-0275