Restaurant Review: Cafe Amici

by Elizabeth Palmer Starnes

Church Street is now the new home of Café Amici Montclair, the sister restaurant of the popular Café Amici in Ho-Ho-Kus, both owned and run by the Franco family. Stacked with a full and diverse menu, Café Amici is at its core Italian, but offers a wide breadth of culinary options to choose from. 

For starters, I ordered the chicken and vegetable dumplings, served with soy ginger sauce, scallions, and sesame seeds. They were an interesting offering for an Italian restaurant, and were executed well. I also tried the zucchini fritti; sort of like zucchini matchstick fries served with a squirt of tangy fresh lemon juice- delicious.

Café Amici has a great salad selection, including BLT salad, shrimp and white bean, and the classic Caesar, but I opted for the beet salad, which was delicious. Roasted red and golden beets, haricot vert, goat cheese, and a sweet balsamic reduction rounded out a very balanced plate. For my main course, I ordered the tortelloni ai funghi, with plump tortelloni stuffed with mushrooms, coated in a nutty browned butter sauce flavored with sage, and topped with shaved Parmigianino cheese and a drizzle of truffle oil. The dish was small but rich, perfect for a chilly fall evening.

I also sampled the Orecchiette Carmine at the owner’s suggestion, complete with hat shaped pasta, broccoli rabe, sweet sausage, tomatoes, cannelloni beans, and plenty of garlic. This dish was a little heavy for my taste, but for someone in search of a big bowl of stick-to-your-ribs pasta, this would be just the ticket. Also at the owner’s suggestion, I tried the cappellini with shrimp and asparagus, served with shitake mushrooms, plum tomatoes, and asparagus. This dish was light and fresh, with just a drizzle of olive oil and a hit of garlic for flavor. Both this dish and the Orecchiette offered portions large enough to enjoy and then take home for later, and they definitely made great leftovers the next day.

Café Amici also offers a creative pizza menu, which encompasses the basics and then some. The Bacon and egg pizza sounds interesting, served with speck, asparagus, mozzarella, shaved Parmigianino, and a poached egg. The fig and prosciutto also sounds tempting, with mozzarella, bleu cheese, fig spread, arugula, prosciutto, manchego, and a balsamic glaze.

Café Amici imports all of its pizza ingredients from Italy, including the pizza flour, ensuring an authentic experience for its diners. If pizza and pasta don’t spark your interest, you can chose from five different burgers, including a Portobello or veggie burger for vegetarians, as well as several cuts of steaks, salmon, snapper, and a seasonal risotto of the day.

Café Amici strives to use local products whenever available, and the daily specials written up of the large blackboard over the main dining room seemed to reflect that.  For dessert, I dug into a flourless chocolate cake, which was satisfyingly fudgy and warm, served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a swath of chocolate sauce.

Café Amici has the fortune of stepping into prime real estate on Church Street, as well as one of the best spots on the street for a restaurant in my opinion. The indoor space has ceilings that stretch up two stories, with a private level up top perfect for parties or celebrations. They also offer outdoor seating, perfect for taking advantage of this bout of Indian summer we’ve been enjoying. The staff and the owner were welcoming and more than happy to make suggestions, and we walked right in on a Friday with no reservations. I’ll be going back to sample some of the delicious sounding pizzas, and to soak up some late fall sunshine at one of their outside tables.