By SUSAN ERICSON
When your day is filled with decisions and you get to that point where all you’re craving is a simple, easy, and effortless lunch, Gaetano’s on Wallace Street in Red Bank is a breath of stress-free fresh air.
Owner Tom Capello’s style of cuisine is what he calls regional Italian, offering familiar dishes and large portions. Oilcloth-covered tables, tile floors, and a kitchen open to the dining room in customary trattoria fashion keep the restaurant casual and comfortable. That homey sense of eating in someones kitchen comes to mind —if that kitchen happened to have an enormous pizza oven dominating the room.
You won’t find exotic ingredients or artfully stacked towers of confusing components here.A lunch menu listed appetizers, soup, pizza, salads, sandwiches and a handful of entrees. Nothing is swimming in foam or trendy.
The most difficult decision may be whether to go with a salad or a sandwich. Sandwiches winning out, PieHole ordered an eggplant parmigiana sandwich and a meatball parmigiana sandwich. Both came with parmesan fries.
Our waiter, Scott Strohmenger, a Red Bank native, chuckled as he placed our orders on the table. “I’ve never been able to finish one of those sandwiches,” he said. The sandwiches did indeed span the entire plate.
At $12, the eggplant sandwich was served on a rather spongy focaccia bread. Marinara sauce, made in-house with Jersey Fresh tomatoes, was well-seasoned and had a nice, strong tomato flavor. Thick layers of breaded and fried eggplant were a mouthful, and too much to eat in one sitting. A more traditional, less bland bread would have made this sandwich stellar.
The meatball sandwich ($10), served on a crusty ciabatta bread, was similarly sauced with tender, juicy meatballs that held together nicely. A discussion ensued about the smattering of fries on both plates. Lacking seasoning and parmesan flavor, we agreed that they were disappointing.
More upscale than your basic pizzeria, Gaetano’s makes all of its pasta in-house. Some dishes are inventive, such as the Italian eggroll appetizer filled with sausage, risotto, broccoli rabe, mozzarella, and sundried tomatoes.The dish puts an unexpected spin on familiar comfort food.
Gaetano’s is open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday.