I've been a huge fan of the "foccacia pie" (pizza) that this place makes as my family often brings it to parties and holidays as an appetizer. It is like a thin sicilian/pan crust topped with chunky tomatoes, and olive oil. Sooooo good!
That being said, we wound up at this place last Monday to celebrate a family member's birthday. We had a reservation and were quickly seated at a 6-person table. My mother asked to sit at another table but they said that was only for 8 people. (no one sat/ate at the 8-person table during the 2 hours we were there)
The menu was very simple red sauce Italian: antipastos, fried calarmari, a few different salads, pasta in various sauces, chicken/veal in piccata, francese, cacciatore, marsala, and a few seafood dishes, namely shrimp fra diavolo.
Our table ordered an appetizer special, crab-topped fresh mozzarella, and the Enzo's salad which is always on the menu. They seemed happy with the salad, but the crab/mozzarella was just a thick piece of fresh mozz with a spoonful of plain crabmeat with no dressing or seasoning on top. It wasn't good and I would have asked the waiter to take it off of the bill if I was in charge but I didn't want to ruin the mood of the dinner with a complaint. We were also served a basket of bread and several slices of their amazing foccacia pizza with appetizers. Needless to say, we all eagerly dove into it.
The dinners around the table were pork osso bucco, shrimp fra diavolo, chicken al massimo, and veal francese. The men who had the pork osso bucco loved it because the meat was so tender and flavorful... but ignored the pasta on the side because it was hard and superfluous to the dish. My sister enjoyed her shrimp fra diavolo while my husband was very unhappy with his: not enough seafood and not enough developed flavors to be worth the $25 price tag on a dish of linguine, 3 shrimp, 3 New Zealand clams, and 3 mussels. My veal francese was fine and the same as anything that I could get in any other red sauce Italian joint in the area.
Some in our group ordered desserts: a fruit/mascarpone dish, a lemon tart, and tartufo. My father was disappointed with the fruit/mascarpone dessert and ate only a few bites out of it. My sister liked the lemon tart but ate only the filling because she was so full. And my mother ate a few bites of the tartufo, probably thinking that I would join her as I LOVE tartufo but I was just too full after my dinner and foccacia pizza slices.
Service was attentive and friendly during our dinner. They brought bottle openers, water glasses, fresh napkins, etc. as they were requested. I have no complaints about how we were treated or served at Caffe Italia.
That being said, the food, in my opinion, was average at best. All I ask when I go out to dinner is that the food be better than what I can prepare at home. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case here except maybe the pork osso bucco as I've never attempted that kind of thing before. As soon as my husband and I got in the car to go home, he said "well, I never want to go THERE again" because he said that I could have made it all better at home.
That dinner for 6 probably cost my parents $400 (including tip) and it just wasn't worth it. We've had much better meals at Il Giardinello for birthdays over the year for similar prices and they were totally wonderful.
I wouldn't recommend Caffe Italia to anyone in the Toms River area looking for a good Italian meal. It isn't bad but it isn't anything special for the price.