Where to eat now: Mamma Franca in Secaucus

SECAUCUS, NJ – If you know where the “in” crowd eats in Secaucus, it’s at one of the hotels in town – Mamma Franca inside Harmony Suites.

Mamma Franca is the hottest new restaurant in Secaucus, and the one you should eat at: it serves homemade Italian dishes in a supremely elegant setting in the lobby of Harmony Suites.

Most residents of Secaucus might not even know the restaurant exists, as it’s only been open for three weeks. A liquor license is in the process of being obtained; for now it’s BYOB and owner Luigi Forte invites you to bring a bottle of wine and enjoy.

For starters, the food is delicious. Many Italian-American residents of Secaucus will immediately recognize the fare as classic Italian: nothing too fancy or complicated. No bells or whistles. But the dishes immediately make you exclaim “that’s how my grandmother made it!” or better yet, transport the guests to Italy.

It may have something to do with the fact that Forte is originally from Italy, hailing from a small village about an hour east of Rome in the mountainous region of Abruzzo.

He makes his homemade gnocchi and focaccias; the result is the lightest gnocchi I have ever tasted, even when served in a rich gorgonzola cream sauce. Homemade focaccia is served hot, crispy on the outside and soft and herbaceous in the middle.

It’s so tasty it would be the center of an entire meal at an American restaurant, but Forte gives it away for free at the start of your meal, along with marinated eggplant.

“Everything on the menu is good,” he says when asked (he’s not bragging), but his favorites are the baked clams, lasagna, spaghetti bolognese, salmon, branzino, penne boscaiola (a pasta dish from his native Abruzzo made with pork cheek in a red sauce) and stracotto al Montepulciano, braised beef (statement: we only tried the first two dishes, but you fool if at least one person in your group does not order the lasagna).

The restaurant is named after his mother “Mamma Franca”, who he says is back in Italy at the moment “probably cooking dinner for my dad”.

“My philosophy is the one she raised us with: good food should never be a luxury. You do the best you can with the ingredients you have,” he said. “We always ate so well growing up. And don’t rush the cooking: give the dishes time to let the flavor come out of the herbs.”

Rumor has it about Mamma Franca:

“With Lorenzo’s closure last year, there are so few Italian restaurants in Secaucus, or any restaurant for that matter,” said Allison Perricone, who was dining there Friday night with her sister.

“It’s so good to have another option at Secaucus,” said Sarah Perricone.

Both loved the fried calamari, which they said was very light.

You’ll dine in a multi-story hotel lobby, complete with hanging gardens and a modern cascading sculpture. It’s a white tablecloth to eat – minus the white tablecloth prices. Appetizers range between $16 and $24, with the most expensive dish on the menu being the ribeye for $30.

“I want it to be an affordable place for everyone,” Forte said. I really want everyone to come here and have fun.”

Italians are known for being hospitable, and Forte proves the stereotype to be true: once he gets the liquor license, he says he plans to offer classic Italian. aperitif, or Italian cocktail hour. It will serve American and Italian cocktails (think: aperol spritz) and offer free appetizers to choose from.

“That’s how we do it in my village in Italy: the aperitivo starts at 6 p.m.; you have a drink and the restaurants or bars set up tables and tables of free food,” he said. . “So you dine much later in my country.”

Forte serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as it is the restaurant at Harmony Suites. Although he likes to treat hotel travelers to a home-cooked meal, Forte says it’s the people of Secaucus that he really wants to attract.

“Secaucus can be like a seaport, so many people come and go. But it’s the regulars I want to build a relationship with. I still believe in relationships.”

They also serve all the classic Italian desserts: Panna cotta; tiramisu, cannoli, creme brulee and lava cake. Try Mamma Franca in Secaucus and tell Patch what you think. [email protected]

Mom Franca: Hours are 11:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; Friday 11:30 p.m.-11 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday 4-11 p.m. http://www.mammafrancanj.com/ 455 Plaza Dr, Secaucus, NJ 07094 (201) 361-6682

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