It’s no secret that the residents of South Jersey are passionate about Italian food, probably more than any other type of cuisine. Whether or not their roots trace back to the old country, many locals often crave a heaping plate of freshly made spaghetti and meatballs in red sauce (a.k.a. “gravy”), chicken parmigiana or seafood over pasta, preferably from a family recipe.
So it’s no surprise that Italian restaurants constantly seem to pop up on every corner in every town, offering their takes on the classics that we have all come to know and love. Yet even among that competitive landscape, Joe Italiano’s Maplewood has eclipsed the rest for three generations, thriving for more than 70 years with its signature dishes and welcoming atmosphere.
“That’s the tradition I grew up with—exceptional hospitality, Italian style. It’s like a home away from home where everybody knows everybody else—a regular family affair,” Jimmy Italiano explains. “We love what we do—we please people. And I think that’s our secret ingredient—TLC. We care about what our customers want, so we listen to them.”
The Italianos’ latest venture proves that point. Responding to pleas from the restaurant’s loyal customers in Burlington and Camden counties, the Maplewood is branching out and opening its third location at the Moorestown Mall in the space previously occupied by Catelli Duo.
As the latest “legendary Maplewood,” Moorestown will join the original Maplewood in Hammonton and the second location in Mays Landing in serving up unrivaled Italian cuisine. It’s expected to open the first week of December, so holiday shoppers would be wise to stop in after working up an appetite.
“It’s something new for us, and it’s a great opportunity,” Robin Italiano says. “I met some people already in the Moorestown area while attending an event there. They seemed very excited for us to open in town.”
“We know a lot of people who drive a long way for our authentic Italian fare, which is quite unique,” adds Jimmy Italiano. “They come from Moorestown, Cherry Hill and Marlton to our Hammonton restaurant quite often. With the upcoming opening of Maplewood at the Moorestown Mall, the buzz has been great and they’re excited to have an option closer to home.”
The Hammonton location recently completed an expansion that has become widely used for birthday parties, business luncheons or funeral receptions. Moorestown also has the space to accommodate large groups and looks forward to hosting holiday gatherings, bridal showers, rehearsal dinners, corporate events and more.
“The restaurant that was left to us works well,” Jimmy says. “The kitchen needed a little bit of tweaking, but the dining room is beautiful. And it offers a few extra rooms for private parties, so we’re excited about it. We can host bigger parties with the new Hammonton space, too, which accommodates about 50 or 60 people. We like doing that. We’re good at it, and in Moorestown we’ll be able to seat larger numbers as well.”
Customers in Moorestown can expect the same popular dishes that have made the Maplewood a dining destination for many. That includes the celebrated Joe’s Special, chock full of fresh local seafood— shrimp, clams, mussels, crab and conch— served over freshly made spaghetti.
The late Joe Italiano Jr. is responsible for coming up with many of the famous recipes still used today.
“He was a cook in the Navy. When he came back home, he expanded the menu at his father’s restaurant in Hammonton, offering more traditional Italian cuisine,” Jimmy Italiano says. “He also created these seafood dishes that were somewhat unique. In fact, he revolutionized the presentation of seafood with his signature white sauce. Before that, we served everything with red gravy. Our reputation surged from there.”
The Maplewood is renowned for its award-winning meatballs in red sauce.
Also, customers love the veal parmigiana, spaghetti and crab, broccoli and shrimp, among many other dishes. Robin Italiano adds that ravioli is a favorite of the couple’s five grandchildren.
“The reason for our success is just the quality of the food,” she says. “We’ve won many awards over the years and people know us through word of mouth. We have family-named recipes that honor the favorite tastes of relatives and loyal customers. It all started with my father-in-law, but some dishes were invented by my husband Jimmy and his talented brother, Tommy Italiano. They spent their childhood under Joe Italiano’s wing—along with the creative Mike Savino—learning the culinary ropes. Even Jose Montalvo, who’s been with the Maplewood for 30 years, employed his culinary arts to shape the menu.”
Four of Jimmy and Robin’s five sons work in the family business. Their son Jimmy went to culinary school and cooks at the Hammonton location with Joseph, while Jeremy is a server at the same place. Justin works in the front of the house in Mays Landing and will move to Moorestown when it opens.
Several other longtime dedicated employees will be making the move to Moorestown as well, ensuring that the top-notch customer service and food quality will be the same. In addition, the Maplewood hired William Umansky as executive chef. The South Jersey native had a distinguished career at P.F. Chang’s, helping to open stores up and down the East Coast.
“He was looking for something closer to home and caught wind of this opportunity,” Jimmy Italiano says. “He’s been coming to the Maplewood for the last eight or nine years as a customer. So this was the perfect marriage of chef and restaurant, bringing someone to us who believes in what we do, loves who we are and possesses the skill and leadership to be able to command a large kitchen and get the results we want. We’re thrilled.”
Jimmy Italiano beams with enthusiasm over the latest chapter in the storied history of his family business. As a young man, he loved to strum the guitar. Hooked, he took on weekend gigs and soon became immersed in music, considering it seriously as a career path. Ultimately, however, his father confronted him: “Either pursue music or commit 100 percent to the Maplewood.”
Looking back, he knows he made the right choice.
“I was born and raised at the Maplewood,” he says. “I went from dishwasher to busboy and waiter to cook, and, eventually, I became proprietor. I think the restaurant industry chose me, and I gladly got on board.
“Robin and I love serving, we love people and we love good Italian food. We’re like one big family here, from our chefs to our servers to our guests. So we’d like to invite everyone to visit Moorestown, get acquainted with us and join the Maplewood family!”
Joe Italiano’s Maplewood
Moorestown, Hammonton & Mays Landing
Moorestown Mall location opening in December!
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Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 15, Issue 8 (November 2018).
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