By SUSAN ERICSON
Whatever the season, reservations may be needed to secure a dinner table at the family-owned Anjelica’s Restaurant on Ocean Avenue in Sea Bright.
But in the off-season, the Ocean Avenue restaurant serves lunch, too, and on a recent visit, PieHole found it a delightfully relaxing spot to saunter into and while away part of an afternoon.
Mossy green barn-wood paneling, murals painted on a brick wall, vintage metal light pendants and antique kitchen equipment bring old world charm to the rustic-inspired space, rebuilt after Hurricane Sandy. The aged-in-place feel is the decorating expertise of Anjelica Lena, for whom owner Ray Lena named his restaurant when she was 10 years old.
The lunch menu includes lighter antipasto choices than the dinner version: five made-in-house pasta options, four salads and five secondi, or entrees. Fresh-caught seafood takes up a handful of slots on the specials menu.
A vintage china soup bowl provides as homey a touch as the stracciatella soup inside it is comforting. Consisting of chicken broth laced with ribbons of egg, spinach and a few pasta shells, it’s served hot and full of flavor. And on a cold winter day, it’s a soul soothing start to a meal.
An Italian restaurant classic, the baked eggplant parmigiano ($12) was one of the best we’ve eaten. Each bite of the thinly sliced fried eggplant, layered with a perfected marinara sauce and hints of cheese, dallies on the tongue in a melting medley of taste and texture. There is no telling bitter bite to this dish, as there can be with eggplant, just an amalgam of carefully prepared ingredients.
A small bowl of casarecce arrabbiata accompanied the eggplant, with a house-made pasta that’s chewy, dense and stands up to the slightly pungent sauce. We will gladly return for a larger bowlful of this, and look forward to trying some of the other pasta or primi options.
Anjelica’s chicken saltimbocca ($14), which means to “jump in the mouth,” is a brighter version of the standard, usually made with veal and sage leaves. A layer of prosciutto and creamy mozzarella cheese topped the tender and juicy chicken breast. A rich demi-glace sauce enhanced the underlying bed of fresh spinach and brought the dish together. Unpeeled mashed Yukon Gold potatoes offered a textural and delectable counterpoint to the meal.
Did we want to linger over dessert and coffee? The espresso and ricotta cheesecake calls to us, and we take note that next time we’ll remember to pencil in a little extra linger-time.
Anjelica’s Restaurant is open from 12 p.m. until 3 p.m. for lunch Tuesday through Saturday.