If you look up “old school” in the dictionary, you should find a picture of Alan Angeloni.
The owner of Angeloni’s II Restaurant & Lounge basically lives at his Ducktown establishment. When you walk in for dinner – now or 40 years ago – Angeloni probably greeted you at the door or was behind the bar chatting with customers.
His personality can be tough. He’s not afraid to tell you how it is – or how it used to be – but under that gruff exterior is a kind man with a big heart who, when in the right mood, loves to talk about how he got his start, how his restaurant exploded during the casino boom, the origin of some of his recipes and old Atlantic City, particularly how his neighborhood changed from “all-Italian” to “all-American.”
Not much has changed at Angeloni’s II since it opened in 1985 – “If you walked in here 40 years ago, it was exactly the same,” Angeloni says proudly – and that’s a big part of the Italian-American restaurant’s success.
“When we used to have people fill out comment cards, they always said the same thing: how they loved the old-school charm of the place, how they enjoyed the classic ambiance,” Angeloni says. “So like my father said, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’”
Angeloni talks about his late father quite a bit, how he started the family business in the 1950s with a bar and later Villa Capri, the family’s first restaurant that opened in the 1960s near Trenton that later evolved into Angeloni’s Italian Restaurant in 1973 in a bigger location in Hamilton Township, Mercer County.
“At 9 years old, I was sweeping the floors at the bar,” Angeloni recalls. “But by 12 I was making pizza. And I don’t mean just putting it together, I mean mixing the dough, making the sauce, really making pizza at 12.”
At 16, when Angeloni was setting up the bar for private parties and working in the restaurant nearly full-time, he had the epiphany that the restaurant business was going to be his life.
“My older brother and father had different ideas; they wanted me to go to college or culinary school,” Angeloni says. “I was always a decent student but hated school. So one day when my father said, ‘Like hell you’re not going to college,’ I said, ‘Dad, so you want me to go to a school where a guy a few years older than me is going to tell me how I am going to come back to run your restaurant?’ He said, ‘You have a point there,’ and we didn’t talk about it much after that.”
Opening in Atlantic City
Eventually, Angeloni talked his father into coming to Atlantic City once Resorts opened its doors in 1978, when Alan was about 23 years old. They looked at a bunch of places, including the former Montego Bay – currently the Ramada on the Black Horse Pike – and Casanova’s Disco near the current Delilah’s Den.
But it wasn’t until they looked at the late Tony Parisi’s place – Parisi’s Club Madrid – that they settled on the current location for Angeloni’s II. They purchased it in November 1980, signed the papers in April 1981 and opened the bar July 4 weekend of that year, setting in motion a restaurant legacy that is hard to match.
“This place is old,” Angeloni says. “Tony had his place for 42 years before us and it was something before Tony had it.”
Eventually, Angeloni expanded the dining room by 55 seats by buying the former pool and illegal gambling hall next to Angeloni’s II, and he bought the parking lot across the street, but Angeloni’s II offers a blast to the past, and that’s a very good thing for Atlantic City diners.
“I am not seating people that were infants when we opened,” he says. “We are on the third generation now. Some of the old-timers in their 80s and 90s still come in … you don’t see them as often, but they still come in. It’s crazy when you think about it.”
Old-school Italian fare
That loyalty comes from Angeloni’s II’s consistency. The menu – except for the prices – is also nearly identical to when Angeloni’s II opened 40 years ago. Instead of changing the menu, where you will find Italian-American comfort food at its finest, Angeloni just adds specials, like their spectacular spicy meatball (see information box) and more seafood entrees than they used to offer in the past, including a recent special of flounder in a lemon-butter sauce topped with crabmeat.
Angeloni’s commitment to high-quality food starts with the pasta. A crew comes in early daily to make their homemade cheese ravioli, gnocchi and manicotti ($17), something rarely seen anywhere anymore.
If you’ve never been there, start simple with Angeloni’s father’s red sauce.
“He used to make it in Trenton and then drive it down in 5-gallon buckets two or three times a week because he didn’t want to tell anyone what the recipe was,” Angeloni says. “Eventually, he got tired of doing that and we finally convinced him to share the recipe.”
That sauce – and many others, including a killer vodka sauce and their famous white clam sauce ($19) – are made by head chef Jim Calabrese and his crew under Angeloni’s watchful eyes. While Calabrese has been with Angeloni for more than a dozen years, his longest employee is Diane Cella, a former server who now does a little bit of everything from working in the kitchen to ordering food, who has been with Angeloni since 1984.
My suggestion: start with the simple spaghetti and meatballs or one of the homemade pastas with meatballs. You not only get Angeloni’s famous red sauce but the meatballs that are Angeloni’s signature items. So where did those meatballs come from? Angeloni’s father? Or his Sicialian grandmother?
“I had a friend who was working in here part time and one day about 15 years ago, he said, ‘You gotta try my mom’s meatballs.’ So he made them and I was like, ‘Wow! They are so good!’ And he gave us that recipe and we have been making them ever since. That a local Italian lady’s recipe, good ol’ Mrs. Ricciardi’s meatball recipe.”
Don’t skip the appetizers, particularly the legendary clams casino ($11.50), which are as old-school as you can get with littleneck clams, breading and a slice of bacon perfectly broiled; mussels red or white ($10.50); artichoke hearts Francaise ($10.50) and their famous eggplant rollatini, a bargain at $7.75.
All of the veal and chicken dishes ($22 to $30) that you would expect to find in a place like this are here including Francaise, parmesan, Saltimbocca and marsala with some nice treats like the Chicken Elizabeth with shrimp, shiitake mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes and white wine sauce.
Seafood is abundant, including Seafood Angeloni ($31) with mussels, shrimp, clams and scallops; lobster tails fra diavalo ($48); and shrimp and scallops Rockefeller ($30) with spinach in an anisette cream sauce over penne.
If you’re a meat eater, check out the char-coaled veal chop ($49), two 8-ounce lamb chops ($33) or a simple, N.Y. strip ($32) cooked perfectly.
“We try to keep our prices fair,” Angeloni says. “My father always said to always keep the portions plentiful. You might have to raise your prices, but never skimp on portions. And we never do. These are trying times right now, and I know a lot of people raised their prices, but we haven’t. I just can’t do that. People are hurting.”
Dine with some wine
Diners are often surprised by Angeloni’s stellar wine list, which is loaded with some familiar California names and Italian classics, including some amazing Amarones and Barolos that helped Angeloni’s win the Wine Spectator Award numerous times, including nine years straight at one point.
“It became a passion of mine,” Angeloni says. “At one point, I had a million dollars worth of wine in the cellar. When I started, I drank beer and Scotch. I couldn’t tell a chardonnay from a Sauvignon Blanc. I maybe had 20 wines on our list. But as our wine numbers took off, I started reading and learning and finding the nuances and flavors, so I really got into it. At one point we had more than 300 wines on our list. But as the casino market changed, so did our wine sales, and we might have about a third of that right now, but it’s still a great list. We like to keep the prices fair. Sometimes people come in and say how a particular bottle we have might sell for three or four times in New York than what I am selling it for. And I tell them I want to be fair and I want to sell it. I don’t want to look at it in my cellar.”
COVID certainly has had its impact on Angeloni’s, which is currently closed Mondays to Wednesdays and stopped lunch, something Angeloni isn’t sure he will ever bring back. But he does see the light at the end of the tunnel.
“I think the second PPP loan will get us through spring, and by then I hope we are OK,” Angeloni says. “There are more people coming in now. It’s getting better little by little.”
And while the neighborhood has changed around Angeloni’s II – “the neighborhood just doesn’t support us like in the old days when it was all Italian, when people would walk in here once or twice a week,” Angeloni says – Angeloni’s II isn’t going anywhere. And neither is Alan Angeloni
“I thought I was going to retire at 55, but that was 10 years ago,” Angeloni says. “I am partners here with my brothers and two sisters, but I still call the shots. They always say, ‘Why don’t you get out of here and live your life?’ And the truth is I don’t know what else to do. I can’t sit home every day. I know that much.”
Great Deals at Angeloni’s
Happy Hour: One of the best happy hours in town, Angeloni’s is offered 3 to 7 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays – and Mondays to Wednesdays when their regular days of operation resume – as well as 4 p.m. to close on Sundays inside the bar only. The happy hour features $2 domestic beer, $3 import beer, $4 glasses of house wine and $5 well drinks. You can also snag $5 appetizers including long hots sauteed in marinara sauce, eggplant rollatini, clams on the half shell, clams casino, roasted peppers with fresh mozzarella, fried calamari and mussels – red or white.
Free meatballs: Angeloni’s is known for its meatballs, and you can enjoy free meatballs when you purchase a Stoli martini inside the bar from 4 p.m. to close every Thursday night for their Martinis & Meatballs Night. And to make things even better, the Stoli martinis are just 5 bucks! Now that’s a steal.
Mama Angeloni’s Sunday Dinner: One of the best deals in Atlantic City happens 4 to 7 p.m. every Sunday (in season) as Angeloni’s features Mama Angeloni’s Sunday Dinner. For $25, diners indulge in a four-course dinner full of Angeloni’s traditional favorites. This is only offered July 1 to Labor Day, and you can only snag the deal if you pay cash.