In Our Backyard: Ragazzi

If you need reminding that we are in the suburbs (translation: lovely place to live, a stretch when dining out), pay a visit to Ragazzi, an Italian American joint in Norwood, New Jersey. Someone somewhere thought it was a good idea to open another Italianesque restaurant in northern Jersey, but the mediocrity of this place may inspire you to crack open a cook-book because – honestly - you can do better.

Where to begin? How about a calamari appetizer of unripe tomatoes, rubbery calamari and limp greens? This was on special as an appetizer, but the combo was just depressing. Equally grim was the Mele Salad, a dismal concoction of green apples, goat cheese, and stale candied walnuts paired with a sicky sweet raspberry dressing. A creamy lobster bisque studded with what appeared to be actual bits of lobster was a high point, but a plate of chopped Romaine drizzled with gooey dressing and little discernable Parmigiano was comparable to a boxed Caeser from a refrigerator case at La Guardia airport. So that’s for starters.

Fortunately, things improved with the pasta. The Linguini with Clam Sauce was delicately garlicky with tiny tender clams in a light white wine sauce, and the Spaghetti Bolognese was a homey ragu of tomatoes, onions and meat with a touch of heat and not too much garlic. The Fusilli with Broccoli Rabe and Sausage was pleasantly un-bitter, but the sausage was chewy with gristle and over salted. All the pasta portions were generously sized so, if you’re on a budget, ignore the rest of the menu, share a pasta dish and go home moderately happy. If you choose to endure, there’s a long list of chicken, veal, ἀsh and beef main courses – most prepared with some version of a white wine or tomato sauce, or laden with a slab of mozzarella cheese. One exception was a crispy Chicken Milanese, a cutlet pounded thin, lightly breaded and fried, but topped with a pile of tasteless arugula (how is that even possible?), onion and more unripe tomatoes. Someone should inform the kitchen at Ragazzi that they can buy decent tomatoes at Shop Rite less than half a mile away.

So…Ragazzi joins a long list of Rockland and Bergen county restaurants that worship at the altar of quantity over quality. The result is massive plates of shockingly tedious Italian American food bristling with chopped parsley and drizzled with whatever, but void of actual taste. I am sure that nobody’s Italian grand-mother cooked this way. Nonetheless, the place was full on a Saturday night, and in spite of attentive but inept service, everyone seemed to be enjoying the night out. Go figure.

530 Livingston Street
Norwood, NJ