Cutting-Edge Updates at Caffe Aldo Lamberti
BY KEN ALAN
For out-of-towners driving along busy Route 70, there is a sign at the intersection with Haddonfield Road that reads CAFFE ALDO LAMBERTI. Hungry natives, however, know it in a far more familiar manner: "Aldo's." Whatever you choose to call this landmark Italian restaurant, its reputation—"A Cherry Hill Classic"—ultimately says it all.
The renowned Lamberti name is synonymous with long-time owner Aldo Lamberti, who opened his popular establishment in December 1987. Since that time, his successful operation has been based on two salient intangibles: culinary aspiration and family tradition.
"It is definitely refined here," says the dignified restaurateur. "A dress-up place for those who enjoy outstanding wines and excellent food." Lots of wine, in fact. Caffe boasts 1,000 award-winning labels and more than 15,000 total bottles, and been honored with Wine Spectator's Best of Excellence award since 2008. This spring the restaurant branched out with bio-dynamic and organic offerings. According to Caffe general manager and wine steward George Katsikis, a 20-year veteran of the restaurant, their inclusion "is in line with the modern tastes of today's diner who expects artisan, chemical-free wines; the true art of wine produced in an Old World style." As well, the restaurant is transitioning from a paper wine list to the iPad.
The son of a Neapolitan immigrant who ran a Brooklyn pizzeria—13-year-old Aldo learned the business in 1963 while standing on Coca-Cola boxes in order to reach the oven—the younger Lamberti soon turned this experience into a series of eateries and, later, a full-fledged empire. In the past 25 years, Aldo Lamberti has built interests in nine restaurants throughout the Tri-State Area, each flying under the Lamberti flag—and for four of which he serves as principle operator. Each shares the Lamberti hallmark of consistency while assuming personalities all their own. Tutti Toscani (also in Cherry Hill) is the family-friendly BYOB trattoria; casual Forno Pizzeria & Grille (Maple Shade, New Jersey) harkens to Aldo's NYC roots. And if Philadelphia's Positano Coast, with its sexy Mediterranean vibe and sweeping Society Hill views, is a modern, younger-skewing trendsetter, then it is the Caffe that remains the flagship operation, ever the reliable bastion for fine Italian dining.
Caffe has greatly evolved in the past quarter century, when it was just a 3,000-square-foot storefront in an unexciting strip mall. Through its seven-days-a-week dedication and the Lambertis' commitment, today's distinctive behemoth covers 15,000 square feet of elegance.
The space is a balance of old-world rustics and sleek, modern lines—an ode to what was, an embrace of what is. Along with the stunning dining room, there are seven private enclaves, including three ornate wine cellars. The spacious bar opens to a vast patio; come summertime, from the outside peering in, the scene will look more West Palm Beach than suburban Jersey. A newly installed fabric patio enclosure, in an eye-catching shade of yellow, keeps diners comfortable on cool or rainy days.
There is a Floridian freshness to many of Lamberti's flavors, too. Stone crabs, direct from the Sunshine State, reign when in season, as does wild-caught shrimp. Seafood in general is a specialty here, from branzino and red snapper to Aldo's Seafood Harvest, a veritable oceanic plateau on a plate. The sea fare serves to complement the house-made pastas and succulent beef dishes, which in turn pair perfectly with the robust wine list. In the fast-growing Cherry Hill dining scene, Caffe manages to honor tradition and embrace change. The region offers plenty of other restaurants, but for 25 years, there has been only one Aldo's. 2011 Rte. 70 West, Cherry Hill, NJ, 856-663-1747
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ANDREW KAHL (STEAK); KARL VELA (EXTERIOR, LAMBERTI); GETTY IMAGES (VICTORINO, WATKINS)