If there is a restaurant that makes me want to return the following evening, to try something I did not order on the previous visit, it is Spano’s in Point Pleasant Beach. That being said, the entire summer was far too long between visits to our favorite local Italian restaurant. Spano’s Ristorante Italiano is truly a local eatery which was very obvious during last night’s visit. It just happens to be in a town that is packed with visitors during the summer. Now that the season had ended, we were able to get a table after only a short 30 minute wait at 5:30 PM on a Sunday.
Lively Local Atmosphere
As I said in a previous review last year, Spano’s reminds me of the deep store front restaurants on Mulberry St in New York’s Little Italy. The resemblance is not only derived from the setting but from the convivial, family like, atmosphere. It was apparent from the banter, between guests and staff, that a large percentage of the crowd was comprised of regular local visitors. Part of the fun of dining at Spano’s is watching the food being served and the reaction it gets. The guests, who receive the dish, break into an ooooh face and smile while onlookers say “Maybe I should have ordered that.” The noise level is high but it is the sound of people having a good time, which I personally think adds to the ambiance.
Diverse and Creative Offerings
Prior to arriving I had perused the online menu which displays photographs of almost every dish in the numerous selections. I think seeing each scrumptious looking creation made choosing much more difficult. They even put pictures of the daily specials on line. That actually helped me because I got permission to use their photo of my appetizer. I had already devoured it before I realized I needed to photograph it.
That appetizer was the Hazelnut Scallops that were seared and sauteed with chopped hazelnuts in a Frangelico reduction. I had to order it because I could not imagine how a scallop could stand up to such a dominant sweet flavor such as Frangelico. It was almost like magic the way that dish came together. The taste of the hazelnut liquor was, in reality, subtle and not overpowering at all. It actually emphasized the sweetness of the fresh local scallops. The nuts were crunchy but not too hard against the tender and perfectly seared scallops. The dish was a blended family of unlikely ingredients that worked remarkably well together. I hope it shows up frequently on the menu.
Another special that my wife ordered, and was generous to share with me, was the soft shelled crabs that were fried in a tempura batter and served with a Francaise sauce on the side. This is, as the menu states, to preserve the crispness of the tempura. Once again the creativity of the chef was evident here as well. My wife waits eagerly until soft shelled crab season arrives and orders them multiple times during the season in many local places. She said that this was the best preparation of them that she has ever experienced. I have to agree with her. The light and crisp batter coating made me wonder why no one else does it that way. It is a big improvement over the heavy breading that I am accustomed too. The Francaise sauce was the perfect blend of butter and lemon, slightly thickened to a velvety texture. I know that the chicken Francaise on the menu has to be excellent after tasting that sauce.
I opted for the Sole Oreganata which is the dish that my wife usually orders here. She always raves about it and now I know why. It consists of two filets that would cover a standard dinner plate, cooked to flaky perfection with a classic oreganata coating. It is served with a bed of sauteed baby spinach and garlic. It was a thoroughly enjoyable dish, half of which will be my lunch today.
All main dishes come with a salad and side of pasta. I would highly recommend the house dressing on the salad. The pasta could almost be a meal in itself portion wise. It is topped with an excellent marinara sauce.
Now let’s talk about dessert. We were both full so we ordered a cannoli and a piece of ricotta cheese cake and brought them home. They survived about an hour. Both were very good but I have to give the highest mark to the cannoli. I have had cannolis from countless places in NY and NJ including some very well reputed bakeries. This cannoli was exceptional. What made it that way was just the perfect texture and flavor of it. I can still feel the crunch followed by the smooth sweet creamy flavor and texture of the filling. They do not get any better than this anywhere that I have been.
Friendly Front End Service and Details
It takes a lot more than consistently good food to create the memorable dining experience. It is the service, timing and attention to details. Spano’s hits the mark in all of these areas. The good service and timing was exemplified in Dylan, our charming server and the rest of the staff including the very professional hostess whose name I did not get. It is also the attention to detail like the bruschetta served ahead of ordering along with the bread and butter. Even the oversize dinner plates with the Tuscan grape design make a statement that this is no ordinary Italian restaurant. The Spano’s, along with their caring staff, make every effort to provide a memorable experience, which they do well.
I have enjoyed the food at Spano’s on several occasions. I can attest to the fact that no matter what your mood, you will find a satisfying and well prepared meal here. Whether it is a traditional southern Italian classic like Lasagna, a seafood dish, a steak or pasta, you will never leave here disappointed or unsatisfied. The prices are very could especially considering the use of fresh seasonal ingredients and large portion sizes. My only wish is that I could visit more often. That pumpkin ravioli special sounded so tempting as did the seafood ravioli on the menu. I promised myself to be back very soon.
Spano’s Ristorante Italiano is located at 719 Arnold Avenue in the heart of Point Pleasant Beach. It is a BYOB. Parking is available on the street and in nearby municipal lots. They only accept reservations for parties of seven or more. Expect a wait especially on weekends. The hostess is very god at determining the wait time for you. In the past two visits it was actually a bit shorter than indicated. Their website provides a complete menu with prices including daily specials.