Eating out with children might just be the world’s biggest grab bag of experiences; you never know how it’s going to turn out. Sometimes kids will sit quietly, color, and wait patiently for their meal. Other times they throw crayons, have screaming fits, and aren’t the least bit appeased by a basket of bread, parent promises, or even threats of disownment. One day they love pizza, and the next they can’t stand it. Kids are fickle, and finding a restaurant where you won’t end up broke, embarrassed, and frustrated can be difficult. One such dining solution and safe haven is Village Trattoria on Summit Ave., which also has sister locations in Maplewood and South Orange.
The tromp l’oeil-painted walls mimicking an Italian country villa and the small smattering of tables in the casual pizzeria are the perfect backdrop for families at both lunch and dinnertime. The wait staff is friendly and understanding, never batting an eye when food hits the tile floor or the volume starts reaching the upper crescendos. Tables get pushed together, high chairs are pulled out, children’s beverages are poured into plastic cups with lids and straws, and pizza slices are cut in half and served on paper plates. The eatery also offers a children’s menu (for those 12 years old and under!) that covers all the bases: pasta with butter, cheese ravioli, pasta with one lone meatball, and chicken fingers—all for under $5.
The pizza service is almost like Speedy Gonzales on steroids. Village Trattoria has several thin crust pies available at all times that can be warmed up lickity-split and hit the table just when the hungriest of kids is starting to think about complaining.
For parents and non-pizza eaters, the BYO Italian favorite offers a variety of appetizers ranging from sautéed clams ($7.95) to mozzarella sticks ($5.25) to antipasto ($6.95 for small, $9.95 for large). There are also salads ($3.55-$11.95), pastas ($6.95-$10.95), hot and cold subs ($4.55-$10.95), baked dishes such as ziti ($10.95) and chicken parmigiana ($12.95), and sautéed entrees including veal Francese ($15.95) and chicken Marsala ($13.95).
On a recent visit, of course with my kids in tow, we sampled Village Trattoria’s shrimp and garlic appetizer ($8.95), which turned out to be the highlight of the meal. The dish featured more than 20 large shrimp, a lovely, light broth flavored with tomato, basil, capers, red bell peppers, and several whole cloves of smashed garlic. The broth was fantastic, and my family fought over the warm hunks of bread to dip into it.
The kids also enjoyed the parsley-flecked fettucini Alfredo ($11.95) which was cooked al dente and served in a creamy, you-don’t-want-to-know-how-many-calories-are-in-it sauce. The dish was solid, although not remarkable, and was accompanied by a choice of tossed or Caesar salad. We opted for the latter, and it was a very healthy portion, most notably topped with a generous amount of shaved parmesan cheese. The cheese makes the salad, and Village Trattoria certainly gets bonus points for not skimping.
Not as popular was the sausage calzone ($6.95), which was enormous and had a light, non-chewy crust that somehow defied the laws of physics and contained what seemed like a full pint of ricotta cheese, mozzarella, and—if you looked closely—a few stray bits of sausage.
Then came the hard part: deciding between one of Village Trattoria’s self-titled “famous” thin-crust pizzas ($6.95 or $8.95 for individual, $9.50 or $13.95 for medium, $11.95 or $16.95 for large) or going for the dark horse, the stuffed pizza ($12.95-13.95 for medium, $16.95-$17.95 for large). Knowing that most locals have probably already sampled their regular pizza slices, we went for broke and tried “The Nova,” ($13.95 for medium, $17.95 for large) a deep-dish pizza filled with meatballs, ricotta, and onion that is topped with another layer of dough and cheese and baked until it is a melty mess.
The Nova was a monster of a pie that oozed with stringy, never-ending cheese and chopped onions and garlic with a sharp, almost raw quality. One bite in, and you could chew for days which was not necessarily a good thing. Like the calzone, the flavor balance was way off, heavily weighted toward cheese. I never thought there could be such a thing, but it was simply too much cheese. And this is coming from a die-hard cheeseivore.
Despite the unevenness of the dishes, we all had a grand time. The service was attentive and cheerful, the kids drank chocolate milk out of miniature cartons, and we (and our four dishes) were in and out in about an hour. You can bet next time we’ll order the shrimp and garlic again, but maybe we’ll join the hordes of other grateful Summit parents and stick to Village Trattoria’s thin crust pizzas.
103-105 Summit Ave., Summit
Hours of Operation:
Monday through Friday, 11 am-10 pm
Saturday, 11 am-11 pm
Sunday, 12-10 pm
BYO. Children’s menu and catering available.
All major credit cards accepted.