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Calandra’s Italian Village is part gourmet emporium, part foodie theme park. With casual dining, drinking, noshing and shopping all under one roof, the Calandra family has created a destination that’s an Italianisimo eating event.
When you step out of your car, you hear the parking lot reverberating with tunes of Italian opera. The brick arches, classical life-size roman statues, and muralled paintings of Tuscan vineyards shout “bienvenuto” before stepping inside.
Calandra’s has made a name for themselves locally by baking bread and pastries. Their recently opened “village,” however, will satisfy many more of your Italian cravings. In the center hall of flags, decor warehouse-sleek meets Tuscan vineyard (dim the lights, please), the bakery display takes center stage. Row after row of colorful cakes, tortes, pies and cookies dazzle the eye. We pressed on to il Vecchio Cafe for dinner, making a note to save room for sweets afterwards.
Our table of nine was seated quickly in the large, open-kitchen dining room, despite being packed on a Saturday night. The menu is comprehensive, if not inventive, including salads, burgers, panini, thin-crust pizzas-calzones-flatbreads, home made pastas and mains. Calandra’s bread and private label Sicilian olive oil were delivered to the table along with our Peronis – presto! The beautiful brick oven beckoned, so we started with a whole grain semolina crusted pie and a mouth-watering oval-shaped flatbread, laden with gorgonzola, fig jam, and prosciutto. These were the highlights of the meal – crispy, flavorful, satisfying. Of the pasta selections, we tasted the gnocchi tossed with green peas, prosciutto and mushrooms in a tomato-basil sauce, spaghetti and meatballs, and the farfalle con salsiccia in vodka sauce. We found them ok, but not stellar. Both veal dishes we sampled would be great for anyone following the South Beach diet, but not recommended if you’re really hungry. The paper-thin cutlet topping a mound of arugula vinaigrette had me thinking, “where’s the beef?” Prices were pretty reasonable, but not a bargain.
Continue your evening’s entertainment touring the rest of “the village.” La Taverna is the place to be for happy hour specials and late night dining. Across the way is “La Cantina” – Calandra’s wine store, showcasing bottles from family-owned vineyards in the old country. After dinner, stop in for free wine and cheese tastings, like we did. Next, we picked up a box of assorted treats from the bakery and spied large croissants filled with pastry creme and nutella for around $2.25. We opted for macaroons, elephant ears, pignoli cookies and pecan tartlets – consuming them at a table in the “piazza.” The sweet treats rated an A+. The kids made a dash to the Gelateria/Espresso bar to choose from the palette of scrumptious, bright gelati, and witnessed a customer biting into the ice cream sandwich special – a big ball of gelato served on a brioche roll. Interesting, but they went for the deliciousness in a cup.
The food choices go on. After dinner, desert, espresso, shop around at the Deli Market, take home fresh pasta, sauces, cheeses, home made sausage, and acoutrements. After all, you do have to eat tomorrow.
Save with half-off specials during “Happy Hour” in La Taverna, Monday-Friday, 4-6pm and on Ladies’ night every Tuesday. Kids under six eat free pizza or spaghetti every day. Calandra’s Italian Village, 234 Bloomfield Avenue, Caldwell. 973-461-1325.