PENNS GROVE, NJ – Snow was already swaddling the sidewalks and parked cars by the time I made it into town. I wondered if I should have just headed home before the weather picked up or if I should continue on my planned trip to a restaurant open house. I allowed my mind to drift like so many snowflakes until I found myself at the curb stop.
Domus Calabria rose up to greet me from just north of the train tracks along North Broad Street. The white and unassuming exterior had recently housed a luan paneled restaurant offering Puerto Rican flavors that while full of love weren’t my favorite dishes. I found myself thinking that I should have just ventured home; but then I opened the door and Calabria whispered sweetly, “Bona cera.”
Immediately the smell of fresh, home made tomato sauce greeted my sense of smell. It was only a second later that
Josephine Papaleo, owner and creator of the wonderful array of culinary treats, welcomed me into her kitchen. The newly formed and painted drywall arches and walls stretched out around us making it hard to believe I was in the same building once covered in 1/4″ panels from the ’50s.
Josephine Papaleo, formerly Screnci of the same family that owns Nick’s and Mario’s, grew up learning to cook from her mother. Being friends with the Screnci family and having shared many family dinners with them, I assumed I’d enjoy the food. I quickly found out that even I was in for a surprise. Josephine enjoyed many years in Calabria, a region in southern Italy and namesake of Domus Calabria (Calabrian House), tweaking and perfecting recipes her mother had shown her.
Before we spoke about anything, it was suggested that I eat. If you know any real Italians, you have the pleasure and true knowledge that it wasn’t a suggestion at all but a requirement. The result of these years toiling away in the kitchen can only be described as awakening to the taste buds. The freshness of everything, and I do mean everything, made food jump off the plate. Vegetables were flavorful and refreshing while meats were robust. Each dish seemed nothing more than a complement to the next but there were a few more than memorable bites that stood out more so than others.
You can’t leave without trying the grilled eggplant dressed in balsamic vinegar. I’ve had this traditional Italian treat from a variety of venues including home made but Josephine’s was by far the best I’ve ever experienced. Next on the list? Ricotta “meatballs”.
They’re meatless, rest assured, but they pack an incredible amount of flavor. The family secret recipe means that this unique treat is something you can only get at Domus Calabria. Treat may be an understatement. Josephine says, “They take a good amount of time to prepare, but we weren’t going to open without having them just right.” Creamy and satisfying are the first two words that come to mind in an endless string of description. You simply have to try them for yourself.
As for main courses, I sampled several which were all very good. They will, however, rotate. “We’ll make things special for customers and keep our menu fresh. Because we want to only serve the freshest and finest ingredients, we will change our menu to suit what we find at the market. Of course we’ll have our staples, but look for variety,” Josephine says.
Today was only a soft opening. Through February 4th, Domus Calabria will be open for lunch and for special events. They have a variety of platters and specials for the big game available. After the 4th, however, you can expect continued lunch service along with reservation only sit down dinners and take out regularly available. Josephine continues, “We’re not a big chain. We make everything here as needed and will be able to reserve for parties up to 30, but to sit down and have a family dinner with us, reservations will be required.”
What I haven’t mentioned yet, and what is very exciting about Domus Calabria, is the price point. Sandwiches range from $7 to $8.50. A pasta combo with two sides? $10. In other words, you can eat fresh, made from scratch food with no chemicals or preservatives full of flavor and love for what you’d pay at McDonalds or Pat’s. Another reason to give Domus Calabria a shot? Bread is coming from the newly opened local bread guru Dave Boucher of Deeb’s Bread.
Value, taste, health, vegetarian options, and local, local, local. I have nothing but reasons for you to give Domus Calabria a shot. Oh and by the way, tell Josephine “Zio Luca” (Uncle Luke) sent you. I’m trying to get a namesake sandwich! Give Domus Calabria a chance to earn your business. You can call them at (856) 514-2021, check out their webpage, or visit their Facebook.