Vesta Wood-Fired, situated in East Rutherford, NJ, has been a popular wood-fired pizza place for years. With the hiring of Chef Todd Villani last year, the restaurant has transformed into a dining establishment known not only for its great pizza but for its offerings prepared with a focus on local ingredients and cooked on wood-fired grills and a hearth. Todd Villani was the Chef/Owner of Carlstadt’s Terre à Terre, which closed in 2016 to the dismay of loyal fans, including us.
A mere two weeks after Chef Villani joined Vesta in early 2019, a kitchen fire shuttered the restaurant. During renovations, Villani and his colleagues reimagined the space and repositioned the food and beverage program.
I had a chance to catch up with Villani recently and he’s pleased with the current state of Vesta. “Things are going great here, and we have a lot of exciting happenings keeping us on our toes for sure,” he said. For 2020 we are continuing to build and grow on the great vibes and excitement from last year… I am so thrilled on how well we have been received. We are smoking, ember roasting, wood-fired grilling, and roasting in the hearth,” said Villani.
On a recent visit on a busy Saturday evening, our group was greeted warmly and seated in the main dining room with a view of the grills and the pizza ovens. The room is lit by massive chandeliers and has a modern rustic vibe.
There’s a separate room perfect for events, called Chandelier Room, and gatherings and a neat wine cellar on the lower level where special events are held.
The Beverage Program
Our friendly server walked us through the menu and took our drink order. We ordered wine from a list with interesting bottles, solid standbys, and reserve bottles. Most are under $100, and many are under $50, with a handful of more pricey options from a reserve list.
Guests can also choose from nine wines by the glass. And those interested in cocktails have five choices along with white/red/rosé sangria. You’ll also find a robust beer list with imports and local brews.
Chef Villani tells me, “We have some great wine dinners, chef collaborations, and fun events in the works.” I’m looking forward to hearing about them.
We had the opportunity to sample a couple of pizzas during our visit and enjoyed them, as we assumed we would based on the rave reviews Vesta garners for its pies. We ordered the Margherita with fresh mozzarella, tomato sauce, grated Parmesan, oregano and fresh basil and the pear and mozzarella topped with mozzarella, gorgonzola, grated Parmesan, poached pear, and walnuts. Proper crust, well-cooked pie with fresh, delicious toppings.
Pizzas come in individual and large sizes. Check that box: pies are solid and worth the trek from Morris County.
Beyond the Pizza
While we knew we wanted to try the pizza, our group was there for Chef Villani’s food. We started with arancini, the menu features saffron risotto fritters with beef, pork, and mozzarella filling in a pepper vodka sauce. However, on the evening we visited, Chef Villani served us arancini in a foie gras sauce that were divine. Perfectly crunchy on the outside, creamy and cheesy on the inside with a rich foie sauce.
This dish made my list of Top Dishes 2019: simply delectable. We also tried the beef and pork meatballs in a rich marinara sauce and the calamari fritti, fried calamari plated with hearth-roasted shishito peppers served with an Arrabiata sauce and grilled lemons. Both should be ordered.
For our entrées, we couldn’t visit without ordering Chef’s famed beef short ribs. The ribs are charbroiled and braised and served with fantastic burnt butter sweet potato purée and rainbow chard in a barrel-aged stout reduction. It’s winter and a perfect time to order this hearty dish.
We also enjoyed the foraged mushroom risotto featuring wild local mushrooms and made using mushroom stock. The dish is then finished with grated Parmesan and ramp oil. Lovely creaminess, big earthy mushroom flavors that paired beautifully with our Pinot Noir. My only criticism would be that I would have preferred less of the pungent oil.
Another dish we’d come back for is the Kobe black truffle burger with wild mushrooms and caramelized onions and topped with a fried egg. The lotus chips were a nice touch as well.
Chef Villani tells me he’s been experimenting with new ingredients and cooking techniques and that new dishes are imminent. “I’m really excited to launch two new items that we’ve been working on,” he said. “Chicken empanadas—wait until you see the beautiful leoparding the hearth baking gives the dough I have prepared—and baby back ribs with a Korean style glaze.”
We’re looking forward to our next visit where we’ll try additional dishes from the creative menu like the cast iron mac and cheese with a panko crust and the linguini with clams in a white wine garlic sauce.
Vesta also has a thriving catering business.
64 Hoboken Rd.
East Rutherford, NJ 07073