With unique twists on upscale Italian/American dishes, the new restaurant Otto Strada on Park Avenue has been bustling with hungry patrons who have heard about it through word of mouth since it opened in November.
Located near several schools and parks, the corner restaurant has attracted families, moms’ groups, young people, and singles out for a date. It’s served them well, providing a unique and extensive menu of pasta dishes, seafood, salads, and poultry.
With offerings ranging from salmon, saffron dumplings, eggplant, and pork chops to a salad of “drunken grilled octopus with a Limoncello sauce,” customers have left full and pleased.
The restaurant is airy and tastefully decorated with metal and wood, providing an adult atmosphere rather than the bar-type feeling so prevalent in Hoboken. You won’t find a television set at Otto Strada, but nor is it stuffy or formal – it has its own basic elegance and roominess, with servers and owners on site to please.
Home cooking, and more
Owners Joe Cascetta and Lindsey Bednar met at a New York investment banking firm in 2001 and will celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary this year. Cascetta has lived in the building at Eighth and Park Avenue for his entire life, and his parents still live there. Bednar is from Pittsburgh. They both love the Steelers and they both love food. But they didn’t know much about running a restaurant.
They make their own fresh mozzarella.
He said that other Hoboken restauranteurs offered to help, but most of all, he learned from his parents – particularly from his mom’s Southern Italian cooking. (They’re from San Giacomo in Salerno.) When she would make octopus for the family, she’d buy it at the now-closed Apicella’s fish market in Hoboken and boil it for hours until it was unspeakably tender. He said that restaurants nowadays sometimes make short cuts, so often, people find octopus rubbery, but there is a right way to do it.
“People ask me my favorite Italian restaurant in Hoboken,” he said. “My parents would cook everything. We’d never order anywhere. I wanted to bring the same classic cooking, some northern and southern, and I wanted to bring something different, something young people like, something old people like.”
The other two owners are Lindsey’s mother, Connie Bednar, and Executive Chef Nick Rutigliani. Rutigliani, a veteran of several New York City restaurants, helped dream up unique variations of traditional dishes.
For instance, do you like meatballs? You can order “polpetta di nonna,” which is a special blend 16-ounce meatball with a “dollop of fresh imported Italian ricotta cheese, san marzano tomatoes, basil, and extra virgin olive oil” for dinner. The meat comes from Trulios, a local business.
The portions are filling, even for the appetizers. “When I ate at home, it was never small,” Casetta said.
The meatball is just one of several popular dishes I saw a family ordering when I stopped in at 5 p.m. on a recent Tuesday. I had to try several more.
What I ate
I’ve eaten at a lot of local restaurants, and sometimes even the best food can get a bit boring when everyone has the same linguine or sea bass on the menu – but Otto Strada has a whole list of special delicacies.
For an appetizer, I tried the “drunken grilled octopus with a limoncello sauce” ($19), which was served over a Tuscan bean salad with roasted red peppers. I had never had octopus, and it was incredibly tender and meaty. They boil it for hours, grill it, then cook it in the brick oven. The limoncello sauce made it a delectable treat. I’ve been thinking about it since then and want to go back just to order it. Bednar said they get lots of compliments on it.
Also sweet and memorable were the crostini with red peppers ($10), with melted caciocavallo (a soft cheese) and a sweet balsamic reduction.
A special cheese plate was offered. Otto Strada makes its own fresh white mozzarella, which I enjoyed with a pesto on top. The plate also boasted gorgonzola with pecan and honey, and an incredibly soft, whipped ricotta in olive oil, into which I dipped my bread. I’m tempted to go back just to order appetizers.
The restaurant also serves four types of salad. I was amazed by the kale salad ($10), as it was fresh, crunchy, healthy, and had a sweet mango glaze to tell your friends about. (The menu lists it as spicy, but I found it more sweet.) The salad also included Tuscan white beans, pumpkin seeds, and shaved parmigiano reggiano. Here’s the kicker – I brought it home and ate it the next day, and it was just as fresh and crunchy. When does that ever happen with a salad? It was filling, too. Never has something this healthy tasted this good.
The main courses are also unique. They include: Saffron dumplings (gnocchi) with sweet pork sausage and tomatoes ($18); lasagna with smoked mozzarella, brick oven roasted tomatoes, and portabella mushrooms ($18), the aforementioned meatball dish ($18), salmon with oven roasted vegetables ($20), a double cut, pan seared, pork chop alla parmiagiana ($24), and one of Bednar’s favorites, breaded chicken pounded thin with prosciutto, homemade mozzarella, tomato bruschetta, on a bed of arugula ($20); and several other dishes.
They also offer nine specialty pizzas, but they don’t want to be seen as a pizzeria. The other food is much more unique, but if you have less complicated tastes, you can try varieties like Quattro Formaggi (“Four Seasons”) with four types of cheese (riccato, mozzarella, caciocavallo, parmigiano reggiano) and a prosciutto and asparagus. The pizzas range from $12 to $16.
I enjoyed several of the dishes. The breaded chicken had a delectable blend of layers, including the prosciutto and cheese, that worked together nicely. Like the other meals, it was filling, and I appreciated the bed of arugula for a healthy twist.
I also tried linguini con pesto di Pepe Rosso, made with homemade linguini and roasted red pepper pesto, topped with crumbled goat cheese and fresh basil. It was unique, with elements of cheese and spice.
The restaurant is only open for dinner right now, although they are working on a weekend brunch, and plan to serve outside when the weather is warm. Check their website, ottostrada.com, for updates.
They do take reservations. They don’t serve liquor, but you can bring your own.
Otto Strada, which means “Eighth Street,” is located at the corner of Eighth Street and Park Avenue, three blocks off Washington Street. Call (201) 792-8880 for more information.