Eating Italian – Where It Takes A Village

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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.

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  1. After our travel plans at Thanksgiving got busted, She Who Must Be Obeyed and Yrs. Trly joined another couple and had our Thanksgiving dinner in the Taverna (much more dimly lighted than the main dining room). It was three courses (with several options for each course)for $29.99 sans tax and tip. With a couple of drinks, a bottle of wine, and a digesitif (or two), we got out of there well-fed for a little over $100 per couple. We also met Sergio, the executive chef, got a tour of the kitchen (even though it is mostly open to diners’ view), and I am impressed with their food and the quality of the service. Not a single waiter or waitress walks by a table without looking at it to see if anyone needs or wants anything. That is excellent training on Calandra’s part.

  2. We went here, as a two some, on a Saturday night. We were told the wait was 30 minutes. We waited in the bar — took 90 minutes to be seated (and we were only still there because my husband refused to leave). We were the LAST people seated there that evening. When we asked why we were told “well, a lot of larger parties came in after you so we seated them first.” This is NO WAY to run a restaurant.
    When finally seated, waited 15 minutes for a waiter to come by, no water, bread, anything. Again we asked “what is happening” and we were told “you’re lucky you even got a table.” Food was absolutely horrible, the worst Italian food we have ever had living in Jersey for 30 years.
    We wanted to like this place, they sunk a lot of money in our town and we are a fan of their restaurants on Route 46, but there is absolutely no reason to treat anyone this way. When we left wife of one of the owners was at the door, asked how we liked it. My husband, nicer than I am usually, told her “worst dining experience we ever had”. Did she ask why, how could they make it better, no way. She just said “well, I guess we won’t be seeing you again.” THAT is the only thing they got right.

  3. Went to the deli hoping for some great antipasti…sorry to say none found. Everything looked like it came from a can or jar, no home made. Boar’s Head meats (I Think), no real specialty items.
    Great Bread!
    I miss Celentano’s

  4. I’ve been here twice and both times have been consistently bad experiences. Not sure if I would go back.

  5. I went in for bread (which is still the best) and I too was very surprised that the Deli had Boar’s head meats and cheeses. Not impressed with the deli.
    I haven’t eaten at the restaurant yet.
    I was very disappointed the last time I went to the one in the Hampton Inn. Service was poor and the food quality went down.

  6. We were not impressed at all. Granted, it was during the first week they had opened, but from the comments here, things don’t seem like they have improved. i am not sure if we will ever go back.

  7. Just have to say I was at
    Bartoni’s on Valley Road, Montclair on Saturday for a small party (24) in the back room and it was fabulous!!!
    Both the kids and the adults had the greatest time and enjoyed the food (we had some very tough food critics with us and they left happy, satisfied, and filled with complimets).

  8. I love IL Vecchio Cafe for Ladies Night~ And get this, talk about service! An honor box for the morning coffee! You aren’t going to see that at Starbucks!

  9. I’ve been there a couple times with the family, all good experiences!! ..Friendly service, love the fettuccini, plenty of options for my picky kids. I?d recommend it!!!

  10. Good Afternoon! I would like to invite anyone on Baristanet who believes to have had a bad experience at the new village to please come back and enjoy dinner with 20% off or come to La Taverna for happy hour which is 50% off all drinks and the bar menu Mon -Fri 4:30 -6:30 extended to 11:30 on Mon and Tues nights…The place is new and its a learning experience for all some of the hired help work out some don?t…then you have to hire new and train all over again…its like that in all restaurants being in the business over 20yrs I?ve seen many servers/bartenders and managers come and go…but to bash a place when its new and jeopardize peoples jobs at this horrible time really isn?t very fair….so come back mention baristanet and Ill give you 20% off in the dining room, if you come during happy hour in the bar I can’t honor that since its already 50% off..Im sure you will enjoy your experience I do get a lot of good comments about the place and again its new so help us out by telling us what went wrong instead of just bashing, we encourage knowing what goes wrong so we can fix it….hope to hear from some of you soon
    Thank you

  11. Thea:
    I went to The Taverna the first week you were open. Even with 50% off your Taverna is unaffordable. I wish you the best, but you guys are no Nicolo’s or Marzullo Brothers. I wish you much success.

  12. Don’t waste your time here.
    I went recently with a friend, and other than the good comany the night was a total bust.
    We had to walk through a wall of smokers just to enter the place. Isn’t that illegal?
    Anyway, we were told there would be an hour wait, and 5 minutes later were seated. Great for us, bad for the other Lauren whose table we got and shouldn’t have. Very unprofessional.
    Wait staff couldn’t be less trained on how to be a professional servers. It was a free for all with no one server having responsibility for your table.
    Food had absolutely no taste. If it weren’t for the lemon that came with my caesar salad, I would not have been able to tolerate it. How can you mess that up?
    I ordered something like a gnochi bolognese. All I tasted was bland. Not sure how a meat sauce has no taste, but they achieved it.
    Really looked forward to dessert given the bakery. Not sure what was going on, but again no taste. My friend who loves lobster claws didn’t finish hers. I asked her why and she said it wasn’t worth the calories, it tastes like nothing.
    I left totally disappoionted. Especially since given the venue, there is a lot of potential there.
    If you want someplace to go just to go, have fun. If you actually want good Italian food, try one of the many other places in Verona, Montclair and Bloomfield. This place is awful!

  13. I have to say I was here a while ago when they first opened and thought most of the mishaps were due to opening a new business. I think you expect this experience to be one of an authentic Italian family which the Calandra family is, however, I have to agree that both times I’ve had their food it’s been really bland and unimaginative. I wish them all the luck in the world, but, it seems like most people are feeling the same. I think they need to be more inventive and traditional in their culinary approach. It’s also a very big establishment and sometimes it’s hard to manage the quality. I enjoy a smaller more intimate setting which I typically find at a couple of great Italian places in Montclair that we frequent.

  14. I really enjoyed this place. Not only was the food good but the place itself is just really different than anything else in our area.
    My Husband and I ate in the lounge part of the restaurant. We really enjoyed the relaxing atmosphere. Had the bowtie pasta with Italian sausage. Delicious!
    After dinner we walked around the facility (the place is huge!). He enjoyed an espresso, while I got my chocolate fill with a chocolate gelato from their ice cream shop- so good!
    We’ll definitely be going back!

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