My regular readers may recall that I’ve already posted about Johnny Paisano’s, a casual yet charming Italian restaurant in my area. That earlier report was on lunch with a friend. I returned to Johnny’s with my wife’s family for an early Saturday dinner to celebrate her birthday and also – belatedly – Mother’s Day. We were a party of seven and we brought healthy appetites with us.
I’ve photographed piles of bakery bread boxes outside of a few cheesesteak shops and was able to do so again Saturday. Johnny Paisano’s gets their sandwich rolls from Aversa’s Bakery, which is in South Jersey.
As I mentioned, the restaurant is casual, but I find it charming. They have old-school green-and-white checkered table-cloths and a Mafia film theme on their walls. And the staff couldn’t be friendlier. In fact, Johnny came out from the kitchen a few times to drop off food or just schmooze with customers. He’s very boisterous and something of a force of nature. The man can cook too.
Johnny Paisano’s is a BYOB restaurant, which is very common in the Philly area. My wife’s brother and sister-in-law picked up a little beer and a couple bottles of wine on our way to dinner.
Although I’ve ordered a cheesesteak every time I’ve taken out or eaten at Johnny’s, they have a large menu that features a nice array of Italian entrees, including pasta dishes, chicken, veal and seafood. The one thing that a couple members of my wife’s family thought they might have, but which isn’t on the menu, is pizza. They do have an excellent selection of Italian style sandwiches though in addition to cheesesteaks.
I noticed that one of their appetizers is homemade fried Mozzarella. Most casual Italian restaurants and pizzerias deep fry frozen Mozzarella sticks that aren’t very good. So as is the case with corned beef hash on the road, when I see homemade fried Mozzarella on a menu, I am always at least tempted to order it. I didn’t fight the temptation yesterday and requested a couple orders for the table. It was head and shoulders above the frozen sticks; very enjoyable. The white stuff on top is grated Parmesan cheese.
I was alone among our party in not having either a Caesar or house salad. I think the only sort of salad-eating phase I had was during Bill Clinton’s presidency.
Johnny brought out two plates that were overflowing with garlic bread while the others were eating their salads. So as my late aunt used to say, I had what to eat while waiting for my main course.
We ordered a nice mix of entrees and hot sandwiches.
My wife had Chicken Gardino, which came with green beans and roasted potatoes on the side.
The pasta portions at Johnny Paisano’s are extra large. You can count on getting two or three meals out of an order. Both of my brothers-in-law and sister-in-law went the pasta route.
She ordered penne with red sauce and a side of meatballs. One brother-in-law had penne with mussels in red sauce with a side of sauteed spinach; the other went with Seafood Paisano, which is shrimp, scallops and crab meat with penne in a creamy lobster sauce. I was also tempted to order the latter and plan on going back to do so at some point.
Johnny’s does a lot of takeout business and catering. One of the things I find charming about the place is that even for dine-in customers, everything is served in their takeout containers with plates on the side.
My in-laws and I opted for sandwiches, and I bet you can guess which one I ordered. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to give their cheesesteak another look to sure up in my mind how it rates.
I like the Aversa seeded roll they use very much. It’s got some bite to the crust, but it’s fairly soft with a nice chew while not being overly doughy. They aren’t quite up there with my top tier rolls, but it’s not far behind them.
Johnny Paisano’s doesn’t offer Cooper Sharp cheese. The standard on their cheesesteaks is probably American, although it could also be regular – unsharp – Provolone. It doesn’t have a strong flavor profile. But there was a nice amount of it on there blended in with the juicy and well-seasoned meat.
If there is an issue with Johnny’s cheesesteak, it’s that it is a little light on meat compared to what you find at some of the highly rated steak shops. Yet I’m not a “more is better” guy and like the the proportion of meat-to-cheese-to roll, as well as the overall flavor of the sandwich.
My in-laws split a cheesesteak and an Italian roast pork sandwich; both of which they ordered with Sharp Provolone, which is put on in thin slivers and packs a much stronger flavor punch. They also opted for spinach over broccoli rabe on the roast pork. That’s roast pork au jus for dipping or pouring in the cup.
Johnny’s makes his Italian-style roast pork and roast beef in house. The hot roast beef is another item I intend to try at some point; as is the veal Parmesan sandwich.
We bypassed the offer of dessert, as one of my brothers-in-law, who is a very good baker, had made a couple treats to satisfy our sweet tooths back at our house after my wife and mother-in-law finished opening their gifts.
My wife had requested something with hazelnuts, and my brother-in-law didn’t disappoint her. He prepared both a honey-hazelnut cake and a chocolate-hazelnut tart.
Both were spectacularly good, but the cake was my favorite. It had a coffee-cake like quality, and I’m a big coffee-cake fan.
Dessert capped off a wonderful evening with family. We’ll be back together next month for Father’s Day and another birthday celebration.
I’m spending today making Sunday gravy with a new twist. I’ll report on that and provide the recipe in my next post.