Opening a new restaurant in Hoboken takes moxie. Especially if it's your first go at feeding the 55,000 spoiled palates that live here. However, for majority partners, husband and wife, Joe Cascetta and Lindsey Bednar, they made it look all too easy with Otto Strada.
Otto Strada, Italian for "Eighth Street," opened up on just that in mid-November with the intent to serve "exactly what [the owners] would serve in their own kitchen at home." After eating the food, I must confess, I wish I grew up in their home kitchen(s)!
Speaking of home, co-owner Joe Cascetta is still in his home! (Kind of). Growing up in the exact 743 Park Avenue building that houses Otto Strada, Cascetta's family still lives in and owns the building. Cascetta had dreams of opening up the authentic Italian restaurant, and even kept the space vacant to facilitate that. He credits his love of food (and "culinary degree") to his mother. Cascetta recruited longtime buddy (who also grew up on Eighth Street) Nick Rutigliani (who has a culinary background) as chef and partner. Bednar, and her mother, are the American final says on the menu (having traditional Pittsburg upbringings). The four partners seem to have a rather seamless approach to the menu - funneling old school Italian favorites through American eyes and seeing what works for the masses of Italian-American foodies. It's basically a fusion of Italian, American and perfection.
Though getting Otto Strada open for business was a long and arduous road, (it was originally going to serve as a simple cafe), the wait was worth it. Space is limited and done in waves, which just might be the only obstacle the restaurant currently faces - and a great problem to have! It is a comfortable BYOB so people actually do feel like they are in their own kitchen. Perhaps a little too much! The wine starts flowing, the explosion of flavor and conversation happens and it's easy to forget that you have been there for three hours. Unfortunately, guests need to be mindful of the next wave of seating - so everyone can mangia!
So let's get to the food. Appetizers to try are the Polpo Ubriachi Al Forno (octopus with a spicy limoncello sauce over tuscan beans, pictured above), Crostini Di Peperoni Rossi with melted caciocavallo (pronounced ketch a ca vallo), and Insalata Di Cavolo Verde (kale salad with tuscan beans, pumpkin seeds, shaved parmigiano reggiano in a spicy mango vinaigrette). Besides a kale salad, Otto Strada also offers kale chips as a healthy alternative to bread. They said they have received mixed reviews on the kale for bread sub. Otto Strada does do an excellent job health-ifying your mom's olive-oil drenched recipes. Yet, each and every dish was thoughtfully crafted, #foodporn worthy and dangerously delicious.
One of the things that adds to the quality of the food, is that Otto Strada uses a wood burning oven - one that burns actual wood - as opposed to many places that only claim to. Using a variety of wood like cherry wood or apple wood enhances flavors and smokiness.
However, one thing is for sure - this is NOT a pizza place. In fact, pizzas were only added to the menu later on, so as not to be confused with one.
For dinner, try the baseball-sized meatball from heaven - more formally known as Otto Strada's Polpetta Di Nonna - a 16 oz. meatball! Dining with a meatball expert, I wasn't sure how this would be received, but this literally melts in your mouth. Even he was impressed. Another dish to try is the Braised Short Rib Ravioli and brussel sprouts in a sage butter sauce which was unfortunately only there on special and for a limited time. Should you ever get lucky enough to dine there when this is the special - ORDER IT!
If you are somehow still hungry and love Nutella, order the Mezza Luna calzone for dessert. You will not be disappointed. I started a juice fast/cleanse the morning after I ate at Otto Strada and could not have had a better last supper. Whether you are an epicure or just plain hungry - this place nailed it and I predict very long lines in the warmer weather.
For anyone who would like to check our their specially curated Valentine's Day - there are three 5-course seatings which are booking fast. Spoiler alert: Ravioli di Gorgonzola e Noci is one of the choices.