Sunday, March 7, 2010

Salerno's is Italian, and much more

Salerno's Restaurant & Pizzeria in Long Valley has all of your standard favorites, such as lasagna and baked ziti. You'd expect that from any typical Italian restaurant. But Salerno's has so much more.

"We make steaks once in a while," co-owner and chef Noe Escobar says. "Sometimes, we make Mexican chili. A lot of customers ask for tortilla chips, and that's my favorite because I'm from Mexico."

Steaks and Mexican chili specials might sound like odd choices at an Italian restaurant, but Escobar has experience in a whole range of recipes; he's dabbled in pretty much every ethnic food style, except one: Asian.

"Well, I started with American food first. I've also done Greek food, Italian food, and Mexican food, so I've cooked almost everything," Escobar says, his eyes looking upwards, trying to recall where he's worked over the years. Then, with a pause, he added: "Except Chinese food."

But it wouldn't be too surprising if a meal with a Chinese influence popped up on the specials menu at some point. Escobar has learned a great deal in the 30 years he's been in the food business.

"I try to do my own recipes," Escobar says.

There's no further proof of this than the garlic knots served here, which he calls, "famous" — and for good reason.

Garlic knots are typically the same pretty much anywhere you go, but there's just something about Escobar's knots that makes them different: The garlic doesn't really touch your taste buds until you've already savored the crispiness of the bread, leaving the best part for last.

"Whatever we make here, we make it fresh," Escobar says proudly, "That's why you can taste that it's different. All my dough — we make it in the morning. I come in at 7 to make it. It's part of my life."

Also famous around Salerno's is the potato-and-carrot soup, which Escobar enjoys making for both its taste and it health values.

"We started making it two years ago, and people love it," Escobar says, "People order it a lot. Carrots and potatoes are the best. It's good for your eyes and your skin, and it gives you a lot of energy."

If that weren't a good enough advertisement, he adds: "You can ask the police; they love it."

He's of course talking about Salerno's catering service. People can either come in to the restaurant, where there are enough seats to fit a small party and a few more, or, they can just call Escobar and tell him what they want.

"We do a lot of catering; every day we do a couple," Escobar says, "I cater to the police, the post office, church, a lot of well-known places right here."

And he's happy to do it. There are more than enough items on the menu to please just about everybody. From appetizers, such as chicken fingers and calamari, to gourmet pizzas to veal and chicken items, the menu is affordable enough to satisfy both appetites and wallets.

To combat the bad economy, he's added to-go family packages that feed four. Some of those packages include baked ziti, which comes with a house salad and garlic bread, all for $23.95. Another is the plain pizza with spaghetti or penne, which comes with a house salad and garlic knots, all for only $16.99.

Escobar makes deals like this to attract more business, but he also does it because he's grown quite fond of the people who come into his restaurant and do business with him.

"This is a nice area, very nice customers," Escobar says, "It's the best town to live and do business in."

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