Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
Dining room photo courtesy of the restaurant
Mama Dag’s Seafood & Pizza House
Formerly known as Patsy’s Seafood & Pizza House
410 St. Cloud Ave, West Orange, NJ
We just discovered a delightful Italian seafood restaurant tucked away in West Orange, NJ. We’ve heard very good reports from local acquaintances that have eaten there many times; so, we decided to try it.
This gem has been known as Patsy's Seafood & Pizza House, named after Patricia Ann Dagostino - Patsy was her nickname - Anthony Dagostino’s, the restaurant owner’s, mother. Anthony is not only the owner but is also the hands-on manager who was omnipresent during our visit. The popular restaurant has recently gone through a rebranding and the name was changed to “Mama Dag’s Seafood & Pizza House” to avoid the brand confusion with other Patsy’s-named restaurants in Manhattan and New Jersey and, also, allow for expansion and new culinary concepts. Fortunately the kitchen remains under the helm of top toque Jessica Fink, a young chef, graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, whose further training in the kitchens of very well regarded restaurants in Italy, New York City, and New Jersey, honed her culinary skills.
There is exterior seating, in front of the restaurant, which is perfect for outdoor dining, weather permitting, or even just coffee and dessert, on a summer evening. The inside dining room is not particularly large, but is well appointed and has a well-stocked bar featuring signature cocktails.
A pizza component is part of the offerings, but fish and seafood are the focal point of this eatery and the dishes, mostly Southern Italian styled are delightful, fresh and well worth the rather moderate prices charged. If you long for your mother’s “Sunday Gravy” this is a restaurant to visit.
I happen to like Italian food; dishes from the North where risottos are king and there is little tomato, if any, in the sauces and dishes from the South where pasta dominates and tomato sauce, similar to a marinara, covers almost everything.
In the past I have visited both the North (Piedmont, Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna, the Veneto, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia) and the South (Lazio, Calabria, Campania, Sicily and Sardinia) courtesy of the New York City Italian Tourism office, the Wines of Italy and assorted wine consortia of Piemonte, Toscana, Friuli and Sicily to taste the local wines and try the local food. Scrumptious visits. For further on Italian and Italian/American cuisines see Italian Cookery in the Gastronomy section.
The current menu is divided in two pages. First page lists Insalate, Antipasti, Soup, Pasta Entrees, and Pesce Entrees, and the second page shows Pollo (chicken), Cold Panini, Hot Panini, Pizza, Drinks and Bambini i.e. a Children’s Menu.
As far as I’m concerned, the best way to enjoy really fresh fish is charcoal grilled, with a simple lemon/olive oil dressing and fresh chopped parsley or cilantro and coarse sea salt sprinkled on top.
There are other kinds of preparation especially for seafood, such as breading and frying, steaming or stewing, and Mama Dag’s offered us exceptionally tasty fried squid rings (frittura di calamari) in a lightly spicy semolina coating, with red sauce on the side, that we just could not stop munching on.
Their grilled octopus was also scrumptious. It is Portuguese octopus, imported fresh from fisheries in the Atlantic. This particular appetizer was resting on a bed of small beans, onion and potato rounds; a delightful dish that was nicely complemented by my bottle of 2020 Pinot Grigio from Albino Armani’s Triveneto vineyards.
A focaccia, baked in their kitchen, came in a basket accompanied by extra virgin olive oil. I normally like a crusty baguette when dinning on Italian dishes to sop the sauces, but this was a very tasty focaccia, and we thoroughly enjoyed it.
It should be noted that Mama Dag’s has a rather small wine list of mostly California vintages with some Italian bottles, including a Greco di Tufo, a very nice Barbera, a Michele Chiarlo Barolo and a Chilean Pinot Noir that I have enjoyed in the past in other restaurants; but I brought my own Pinot Grigio to taste with the food. It was a full bodied wine with less acidity then many of its brethren and it worked very well with the fish dishes. I believe wines and foods from a particular area should be had together because, usually, they complement each other.
Their mixologist concocts interesting cocktails; we especially enjoyed the long drinks. They were perfect for a warm evening while waiting for our food. We tried “Under the Boardwalk” a cocktail with intense tropical overtones from pineapple juice and grenadine and the “Garden Love” that had strawberry basil, lemon juice and vodka. Both were refreshing, excellent for an evening in a nice restaurant. The third, “Afternoon Delight” was attention-grabbing but had gin in it… and I abhor gin!
The main courses were delivered to our table.
Char grilled swordfish was on a bed of slightly pickled, tangy, mixed vegetables known as “giardinera” in Italian. The best way to enjoy fish is fresh, never frozen. This swordfish was just that; really very fresh. The charcoal grilling gave it a lovely, smoky aroma and the flesh was tender, firm but moist. Good sized portions; it was a pleasure eating there.
Next came one of my favorite dishes; papardelle with Bolognaise sauce. It is a classic dish that uses a wide pasta covered by a meat and tomato sauce. Their Bolognaise version was very Italian-American i.e. chopped meat in tomato marinara, with lots of onion and garlic. Quite a large portion. As I said, if you are of Italian descent it will remind you of mamma’s “Sunday Gravy.” If you are not; just enjoy it.
The final main course was the Calamari Ripieni; stuffed calamari in a red wine sauce. Two medium sized calamari bodies on a bed of beans, sweet white pearl onions, pinolia nuts and black olives.
Coffee and dessert ended the meal. A nice slab of tiramisu, topped by slices from a ripe strawberry and a few blueberries, and a peach/apple cobbler, topped with vanilla gelato.
There is a Sunday Brunch menu with Raw Bar, Primo, Insalate, Secondi and Panini and, of course, their fire oven pizza in all their inventive variations. Next time I crave brunch, I’ll give Mama Dag’s a try.
A new, seasonal menu should be available by the time this article is published. As soon as we have a copy, we will add it to the story.
We both enjoyed our dishes very much. The staff was attentive but not overbearing. Anthony Dagostino moved between the kitchen, the dining room and exterior tables, keeping a watchful eye on everything happening. Though he is a young man, he is an old-fashioned style manager that keeps abreast of things and that’s good because, as I believe, you’ll never get a bad meal in his domain.
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