Bally’s is back, baby! And there may be no better proof of that than the opening of Jerry Longo’s Meatballs & Martinis, an amazing Italian restaurant that is not only a great addition for the casino but for the entire city.
The stunning restaurant with ocean views is the kind of old-school place where you will hear a lot of “Fuhgeddaboutits” and they will probably call you “Cuz,” an affectionate way to call you friend, just like Longo learned when he was growing up in South Philly, while they serve you some stellar Italian food made with recipes from the heart.
There are bound to be comparisons to another Italian restaurant across town at Harrah’s Resort — Martorano’s — and they are more than valid. Longo and Steve Martorano actually grew up together and are friends today, and their restaurants have plenty of similarities, including the meatball salad being their signature dish, televisions playing classic movies on screens throughout the restaurant, the martini being their signature drink and the place turning into a nightclub with DJ after 9 p.m., complete with tables being moved to create a dance floor.
But there is plenty of room for both restaurants as they offer unique experiences with different recipes, attractions and charm, including two blackjack tables at Longo’s entrance.
Humble beginningsLongo’s originated in the Historic Federal Hill area in Providence, R.I., where Longo, who worked his way from an Atlantic City dealer to vice president of marketing at Foxwoods Resorts in Connecticut, teamed with Brand Ambassador and Manager Frankie Storione to open their first, 36-seat, 875-square-foot Italian restaurant.
“Jerry and I met in South Philly,” says Storione, whose last name means sturgeon in Italian. “I am from the Italian Market area and he was two blocks away. On our way to Eddie Nixon’s dance, we would stop in to the Star Wars Arcade to get the snow out of our hair, and Jerry was working there handing out quarters. That’s how I met him. And in South Philly, when you are friends, you are friends for life.”
The two parted ways as adults, with Longo heading to A.C. and Storione going to Vegas to work in the culinary field, including the Mirage and Capital Grille.
“We ran into each other in Vegas and he said, ‘Yo cuz, what are you doing. Let’s do something together. Let’s open a restaurant. I will call you in three months.’ Three months to the day he called me, flew me to Rhode Island for a road trip to look for a spot. We went from Boston to Cape May looking for a place he could afford with a liquor license. We couldn’t find one until we got to Federal Hill. He found a broken down flower shop, and the liquor license was $1,700 a year. My car insurance was $1,800. I wasn’t so sure. I thought it was too small. But he had a vision. We had five bar stools and nine tables, and at nighttime we used to take the tables outside and leave them on the street and crank the music, and people would stay until we had to kick them out. We just blew up. And he needed a bigger boat.”
That led to Longo relocating to Westerley, R.I., where the flagship restaurant thrives and Longo calls home. Longo’s brand footprint expanded quickly as he opened at Twin River Casino in Rhode Island before the casino company brought him to Dover Downs Hotel & Casino and now Bally’s. Another is in the works, but Storione refuses to say where.
“In a neighborhood near you, that’s all I will say,” Storione says.
“If you know the incredible guy that Jerry is, and have ever been blessed to experience his food and impeccable service, you surely would understand why we wanted him to be part of the Bally’s family,” says Phil Juliano, executive vice president of casino operations and chief marketing officer at Bally’s Corporation. “As an Atlantic City guy myself, I have known Jerry a long, long time, and this will be an added food experience visitors and locals alike will cherish as they enjoy Bally’s and Atlantic City.”
Longo’s food is fantastic, and celebrities including Billy Joel, the cast of “The Sopranos,” Richard Jenkins, New England Patriots Owner Robert Kraft and former Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski can attest to that.
Roman-style ItalianThe story goes that Longo, whose lineage traces back to Rome, often found himself in the kitchen with his mother preparing “Italian soul food.” He learned some great recipes and techniques and now uses only the finest ingredients, much of which are imported from Italy.
“Rome is known for its light fare with a clean, fresh way of cooking,” Storione says. And he is serious about that philosophy of less is more. “Don’t complicate dishes. Keep them fresh, easy and consistent with the best ingredients, and it’s been working for us. When you start with the best ingredients you can buy, you can’t go wrong.”
It all start with the marinara, which is cooked down all day using imported tomatoes from Italy, and features no meat in the sauce.
“This should put things in perspective: The tomatoes we use in Longo’s are imported exclusively to Longo’s restaurants,” says Bally’s Executive Chef Giancarlo Generosi. “That’s how specific they are when it comes to ingredients.”
“We had to go to Rhode Island to train the staff and learn all of the recipes,” says Bally’s Director of Food and Beverage Jerry Beaver. “They take this very seriously. Every ingredient is the freshest you can get. And it’s really resonating with the casino crowd. They love it.”
Sharing is the name of the game here. Order a lot and pass the plates. On our visit, we loved everything put on our table, starting with what might be the nicest antipasto ($25) we have ever experienced. The special board is prepared from a dedicated and staffed bar area where employees hand craft each one including imported meats sliced to order on a showpiece Berkel slicer, and imported cheeses that you may have never had before. Longo pays attention to every detail, serving his favorites on handcrafted olivewood.
“Half of the ingredients come from a vendor in the Bronx that gets them straight from Italy,” Generosi says. “The antipasto has meats and cheeses I haven’t seen, and I grew up with this food. The mortadella is the size of your motorcycle tire. It’s amazing.”
It might be cheese overload but it’s nearly impossible to pass up the fresh-made, hand-pulled mozzarella ($17) served warm over Edda extra virgin olive oil with sea salt and fresh basil.
Longo’s signature dish is the Meatball Salad ($16) known as the “Longo Classic,” which features Longo’s famous homemade meatball — a perfect medium texture, not too soft, not too hard – with a scoop of ricotta, alongside romaine, cucumbers, black olives, cherry tomatoes, red onion and “old-school” vinaigrette.
We were also impressed with the calamari fritti ($18) — Rhode Island style — with tangy vinegar peppers, and the shrimp Sinatra ($19), jumbo shrimp over Italian toast with cherry tomatoes, shallots and white wine lemon butter, and we can’t wait to try the “Scarole & Beans” ($14), sautéed escarole and Tuscan white beans with sweet Italian sausage (add $3), and the Caprese Tower ($17) with sliced Jersey tomatoes, mozzarella and prosciutto di Parma.
The salad with the meatball may suffice, but if you are tempted for another healthy dish, definitely order the roasted beets ($14) with whipped ricotta, walnuts and walnut oil, one of four salads on the menu.
Pasta galore and moreLongo’s is known for its spaghetti and crab gravy ($28) for a good reason: It’s outstanding. Slow-cooked blue crab sauce is ladled over al dente spaghetti and topped with more jumbo lump crab. It’s about as South Philly as you can get.
“They make it just like my father did when I was a kid,” Generosi says.
Other pasta standouts include the bucatini all’Amatriciana ($25) with guanciale, onion, red pepper flakes, and Pomodoro sauce; ravioli Florentine ($28), homemade ravioli stuffed with mozzarella, ricotta and fresh spinach in a creamy rosa sauce; and the linguini with clams ($27) – red or white — with garlic, Italian parsley, chili pepper flakes, basil and EVOO for a perfect Jersey Shore dish.
Entrees are traditional Italian, as well, including a variety of meats and eggplant served parmigiana, Francese and Milanese style, along with local favorites such as the crab-stuffed sole ($38) served over spinach-parmesan risotto and topped with creamy dill sauce; a 14-ounce Kurobota pork chop ($38) grilled with vinegar peppers and white wine butter sauce served with parmesan risotto; and a 14-ounce grilled, center-cut 1855 angus N.Y. strip complemented with broccoli rabe and parmesan risotto that is a steal for $52 in the city of overpriced steaks usually served with no sides.
Pizza … one of the best in South JerseyOur biggest surprise of the night was Longo’s classic Roman-style pizza al taglio. Square, light and fluffy with a great crusty crisp, Longo’s pizza is hands down one of the best in not just Atlantic City, but all of South Jersey.
The traditional ($16) is served with fresh tomato, homemade mozzarella and fresh basil with upgrades to pepperoni and sweet Italian sausage available. But you haven’t lived until you try the Prenestino ($28), with mascarpone, mozzarella, thinly sliced potatoes, fresh rosemary, sea salt and EVOO. It will knock your socks off.
“The dough is Roman style,” Storione says. “Jerry is really adamant about how the dough is made. You make it in the morning, it sits out to rise, is molded and baked. And then when we get it in the restaurant, it’s baked again to get that nice, crispy crust.”
Storione says he is blown away by the reaction for Longo’s Meatballs & Martinis at Bally’s.
“It’s an immediate success story,” Storione says. “I love the people. Bally’s has embraced me here like I’ve been here for 30 years, and the people who come in just adore the place. I feel the love.”