There are just those days when nothing but the old standbys will do. When I get a hankering for classic red sauce joint fare, I make it a mission to search out the best of the best red sauce joints. Living in North Jersey and in close proximity to NYC, there is no shortage of excellent red sauce joints. One such landmark is Spirito’s Restaurant on 3rd Avenue in the Peterstown Section of Elizabeth, NJ also know as the Burg. Spirito’s is a downright legendary institution in Elizabeth’s Little Italy.
Like many Little Italies throughout these United States, the demographics of Elizabeth have changed but the food and restaurants are still the same. In addition to Spirito’s, Peterstown is home to Centanni’s Pork Store, Tommy’s Italian Sausage stand, Di Cosmo’s Italian Ice, as well as the Vallatese Social Club.
Spirito’s has been around since been serving it’s delicious Italian-American delicacies since 1932. Spirito’s is no frills and no nonsense. When you walk into the dimly lit dining room, you are greeted by the woman running the cash register. We sat in one of the booths along the wall. The waitresses are sweet but to the point. Many of them patrons are regulars. You can just tell by the way they kabitz with the waitresses. The menu is classic Italian American red sauce joint fare. It’s the kind of food that I grew up eating. It’s the food that is in my blood. Whenever I dine at Spirito’s I don’t stray too far from the script.
I start with an ice cold bottle of domestic beer and for the table a loaf of Italian bread (BYOB: Bring Your Own Butter; as Spirito’s doesn’t serve it) and a Garlic Salad. You have to have the garlic salad, unless you’re a vampire; then you may want to pass. It’s a basic salad of iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, black olives, and celery. But the secret is that garlic dressing with its wallop of garlicky deliciousness.
And for my dinner, I always go with the Veal Parm and an order of homemade ravioli (ravs to those in the know). I don’t often order Veal Parm out, but this is one of those places that excels at perfecting this simple of Italian-American dishes. The veal is fried crispy, not soggy. It’s fork or better yet spoon tender. The mozzarella is gooey, just the way I like it and the red sauce, what can I say, it’s classic.
The homemade ravioli are in a league of their own. The pasta is tender while the ricotta filling is creamy & sweet. The ubiquitous sauce again is on par with the best red sauce joints around.
After paying the bill (Spirito’s is cash only), on warm days, it’s a treat to stroll down High Street to Di Cosmo’s Italian Ice stand on the corner of High Street and Fourth Avenue for some of their excellent Italian ice. The selection of ices change on a regular basis throughout the season, but no matter the flavors in the buckets, you won’t be disappointed.
So if you’re looking for a glimpse of Italian-American nostalgia, then you really need to pay a visit to Spirito’s Restaurant in the Peterstown section of Elizabeth. You will not be disappointed, just don’t forget the butter.