On business for 2 weeks in Saddle Brook staying at a bizarre Radisson, seemingly populated only by transient bus-loads of senior citizens travelling from points unknown to other points unknown. (Arrive en mass at 4:30pm, leave at 7:00am) Apart from a scenic view of the Garden State Parkway toll booths the area appeared devoid of diversions, either foody or otherwise. My first night I spent no less than 80 minutes driving around the back streets of Saddle Brook looking for signs of meaningful restaurant life. I came up without even a fast food find. Saddle Brook is somehow isolated by the surrounding freeways and I was getting nowhere fast. So I stumbled into a place I had already seen and thought "I can do better" - at this stage after an hour tour of NJ's neighborhood's finest Xmas lights (and nothing else) it looked AOK. Carucci's Restaurant at the junction of Pehle Ave and Saddle River Road.
Suffice to say this became home from home for the next week and a half. It scored an immediate hit in being able to pour a hearty (and much needed) Tanqueray & Tonic but then the menu started to get my interest. The food here is old-school Italian. Which strangely enough does not emphasize pasta so much as meat & fish. I was impressed to see mussels and clams featured (I live in the midwest, bear in mind, where they are rare, and I am fond of both) as well as good hearty stuff like prime rib and steaks. I started with clams casino. These were tasty. I was especially pleased I retained the DELICIOUS broth as an "au jus" for the prime rib to follow. They went perfectly together. It was all excellent value. For drinks (cocktails & wine), clams, steak (included salad, bread), dessert 50 bucks seemed like a good price. The kitchen know what they are about. on another occasion (I can't recommend this enough) I had the appetizer of mussels with the *hot* sauce. This spicy sauce is possibly the most more-ish concoction on the face of the earth. Carucci's is the sort of place that believes in slivers of whole garlic and bold flavors. I must say I fell in love with the place. For a guy alone the people-watching is superb too. A good cross section of walks of life. I have to warn though that at weekends it changes its spots. Rock bands (purveying a style of music not to my personal taste) appear and the Sinatra records are turned off, and the place is jammed. During the week, for me, it was just perfect though. Older crowd, and their kids. The simpler the dish the better it seemed to be. Although engaged on a bit of an Atkins regimen, their pizza (served in style on raised pizza rings) looked as though it had "the Touch". As a long-time pizza man I can tell a good pie far off, and they are not often found, at least not often enough. These appeared to be grade AA. This is very much a family-run operation with multiple (hard to tally how many: certainly at least 4) generations of the same family spotted. The bartenders make you welcome to eat at the bar except as mentioned when packed on the weekend.
Since the bar & restaurant at the Radison was the sort of place that looked like you'd spend an arm & leg for the worst meal & service in the world (even the dead flies on the bar seemed to disdain it) Carucci's certainly made my stay a much more pleasant experience, and with the previous warning about weekends (unless you enjoy ear-drum damage as part of the dining experience) I can heartily recommend it: just remember it's the *hot* sauce you want with the mussels. The best. I regretted not trying their seafood entree (mussels clams and what-not) which I suspect would have been a winner.
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