Hidden beneath a dark red sign, off a busy street in Nutley, New Jersey, patrons drink glasses of red wine, eat overflowing bowls of spaghetti and breathe in the sweet, earthy smell of fresh baked bread and pizza from the wood-burning oven. It is a place where everyone becomes part of the family. At Regina (Queen) Margherita, you forget that you are in a restaurant in New Jersey and instead feel as if you are in the kitchen of a small Italian home in Naples.
Pasquale and Nicola Di Palma, both born in Naples, Italy, opened the doors to Regina Margherita in 2004 to share their love for authentic Italian food. The dishes are all homemade with time and care, which comes through in each and every dish. This restaurant has become such an integral part of the neighborhood that during Hurricane Sandy, they opened their doors to distribute freshly baked bread and cups of espresso to those in need.
I’m shocked it’s taken my family, until now to discover the wonder of Regina Margherita. My Dad finally became in the know recently, and brought my Grandmother here to celebrate her birthday. My whole family had been converted to love the authentic Italian meals, and couldn’t wait to finally bring me.
I had left the hustle of New York City for the day to vote in New Jersey. I met my Dad at his office and suggested we try this Italian place he had been raving about for weeks now. We drove past the long gas lines and through areas still without power after Hurricane Sandy to our destination.
The restaurant was crowded during lunch time, with families and individuals enjoying their meals, drinking red wine as food whizzed past. My dad and I waited in the side drooling over decadent pastries and fresh baked bread lining the glass counters.
We were seated about ten minutes later, as the hostess apologized for the wait. We didn’t mind at all.
Before I could even open my menu, my dad quickly ordered a Pizza Margherita made in their wood burning oven. I glanced over the menu with a giant grin as I saw the exact dish I needed to order; Eggplant Melanzane. During the lunch special, this dish also came with a choice of soup or salad; and spaghetti or penne. I opted for the salad and spaghetti as we waited for our appetizer of pizza.
In the meantime, they brought out bread and oil, which normally I would skip during a review. But this set up my expectations for an incredible meal.
I ripped a piece of the warm bread, and steam came flowing out of the piece. Then the oil, with lots of wonderful ingredients sitting at the bottom of the little bowl came to the top as I dipped the spoon inside. I put some of the oil, garlic, olive-y mixture and took a bite. All of it melted in my mouth, the sweet warm bread, and flavorful oil. Normally my dad would make a comment about ruining my appetite with bread, but both of us just looked at each other as we devoured the fresh bread and oil.
Then the pizza arrived, fresh out of the oven.
The crust had a perfect, darkened char to it from the wood oven. Sweet pieces of mozzarella added a depth of flavor to the dish. And fresh basil added a necessary freshness. The homemade tomato sauce brought held the ingredients together on top of the main star of the dish; the crust. Sweet and savory all at once, this was some of the best pizza crust I have had since being in Italy during my semester abroad. You cannot find this level of quality at your normal pizza joint in Midtown Manhattan. This is truly special.
The salad arrived, kindly split onto two plates, acting as almost a palate cleanser between the pizza and the eggplant to come.
Before I describe the eggplant, I want to make something very clear. Eggplant Parmesan or any variation of this dish is my absolute favorite plate of food in the entire world. If I were to have a last meal, this would be it. My parents know they can lure me to any destination with the promise of eggplant and my grandparents have a to-go container of this from Dominick’s in Boca waiting in the fridge for me every time I go to visit. I am a tough eggplant parm/melanzane critic.
This version tops the list of one of the best Eggplant Melanzane dishes I have ever had in my entire life.
The eggplant just seemed to melt into my mouth with every bite building on top of one another. The eggplant was truly the star without any overly unnecessary use of breading and frying. It was sliced to a perfect thickness, for that true sweet quality. The mozzarella on top acted as a rich, counterpoint added that wonderful salty, sweetness this cheese is known for. The wonderful homemade tomato sauce added a rich, freshness to the cheese and eggplant bringing everything together. I added some of the parmesan, which was unlike any store bought container you would find at home. It had a sweeter, more powerful flavor to it. I just sat and gave my dad a gigantic smile and acknowledgement that he hit this one out of the park.
When Pasquale came over to check on us, since the owners are always making sure everyone is happy, I had to tell him the truth. One of the best eggplant dishes of my life. I am already planning my trip back to New Jersey just for this dish.
I barely even focused on the delicious side dish of Spaghetti since I was too consumed with the Eggplant.
The meal ended with a powerful espresso, thanks to Pasquale, and my dad and I split a small chocolate canoli.
I didn’t want to leave, I felt as if this restaurant had become home. And I think that’s the point. It’s a place where everyone knows your name, remembers your face and wants to share their love of Italy through their food. Regina Margherita is the Di Palma’s truly wonderful Italian home, which happens to be a restaurant.
Regina (Queen) Margherita – 246 Washington Avenue – Nutley, NJ
Regina (Queen) Margherita
Location: Nutley, NJ
Perfect For: Authentic Dining, Take Out, Big Groups
Open: Monday- Saturday
Reservations: Not Necessary
Favorite Dishes: Eggplant Melanazne, Margherita Pizza