Customers are delighted to enjoy lunch and dinner at Camillo's Café, especially with the exciting new menu of homestyle Italian cuisine, created by Chef Camillo Tortola.
About to celebrate its first anniversary in the Princeton Shopping Center, Camillo's has just reopened after a $250,000 renovation.
"We totally redid the restaurant, including a whole new decor. I wanted an authentic look of Italy, and my partner Roberta chose the decor," says Mr. Tortola, owner with Roberta Pughe.
Indeed, there is a brand new look to what has become a popular community restaurant. Dinner plates sport the crest of Miranda, Mr. Tortola's home town in Italy. A tan and cranberry color theme, fresh linens (cranberry, white, and tan), hanging lanterns, cognac and bamboo floors, and Italian wine labels and posters create a handsome and inviting setting.
In addition, Chef Tortola added a completely new kitchen to the tune of $75,000. "We had outgrown the original kitchen, and we totally redid it. Now it is state-of-the-art."
As a chef, he has been devoted to creating delicious authentic Italian dishes. It is what he has been doing his adult life, and what fascinated him when he was a boy. Born in Italy, and brought up by his grandmother in the small village of Miranda, Camillo was intrigued by his grandmother's cooking.
"My grandmother was very poor after World War II. She had a simplicity and purity in the food that she prepared that shaped my palate. She'd put a chicken in a pot, with all fresh vegetables, and the flavor was wonderful. I fell in love with her cooking style, from Naples," he recalls. "I remember tasting the freshest, purest ingredients, combined with the right colorful presentation. And the taste and aroma were very appealing. She fed me very well! I'd watch her, and that's when I decided to become a chef."
He trained for two years at the Roccaraso Cooking School in Italy, and worked in a variety of Italian restaurants as a chef before moving to Scotland, where he worked with well-known Italian chef, Enzo Ripa. He later owned two restaurants there, including one in Edinburgh.
After coming to Princeton a few years ago, Mr. Tortola worked in the area as an independent chef before deciding to open his own restaurant. "I always hoped to have a restaurant here," he explains. "I love Princeton, and I think the people here would appreciate it. Especially, they appreciate three things: quality food, quality decor, and quality service. Princeton is a very cosmopolitan place and a great location between New York and Philadelphia. Princeton University brings a lot of international people here, and also, residents have traveled and appreciate good food."
Providing them with a variety of high quality Italian cuisine is Chef Camillo's mission. "Personally, I love 'peasant' food, such as Caponata di Melanzane (eggplant) with pesto and bruschetta. I love the simplicity of it. The simplicity of Italian food is what makes it so popular. A Mediterranean diet is the best in the world. Olive oil and tomato sauce are good for you."
Everything at Camillo's is prepared to order, he adds, and everything is fresh. "Our pasta is freshly cooked, and our food is set apart by special recipes (some from my family), presentation, and always, quality. I emphasize quality for two reasons: one, quality, whether food or service, takes you a long way, and two, with good quality, I have less to do. Quality stands alone, needs no enhancement. For example, the veal I buy is the 'filet mignon' of veal. Nothing is more tender. We have 100 percent Angus beef, including great strip steak and delicious filet mignon, and everything is always tasted by the chef."
Other special dishes at Camillo's are Pappardelle con Italian Sausage Ragu and Truffle oil; Spinach and Ricotta Manicotti in basil tomato sauce; Vitello Milanese served with Arugula; and pollo a piacere (marsala, picatta, pizzaola, or parmigiana); and appetizers, such as gamberi peperoncino (shrimp in white wine, garlic, peperoncino peppers, and tomato sauce).
"We also serve a lot of fish, and we can always accommodate people's special dietary needs," adds Mr. Tortola.
The basic menu is changed twice a year, but the specials vary every night, he reports. "I like to concentrate on the specials, and they are a bit more sophisticated. Every night, there is a chicken, fish, meat, and two pasta specials."
And customers rarely skip dessert, emphasizes Chef Camillo. "Tira misu, especially, is a very popular dessert. It is a 100-year-old recipe handed down from my grandmother."
This and other tasty treats can be topped off by cappuccino and espresso, and the relaxed atmosphere adds to an outstanding dining experience.
The lunch menu offers different choices, including paninis, soups and salad, pasta dishes, as well as hamburgers, and fish and chips. All dishes, lunch and dinner, are competitively priced.
Mr. Tortola is very happy with the response to the restaurant, especially after the renovation. "I have really been surprised at how fast we are growing. We are getting 600 to 700 people a week, and can seat 65. We have many regulars, and some repeats even come three times a week. We have really become a destination place. We also get families, and children are always welcome. We have a kids' menu. I love children they create a lively atmosphere.
"I have been blessed," continues Chef Camillo. "Blessed with my partner, my staff, and my customers. The most enjoyable thing is when clients gives me a compliment, and say they really enjoyed the food. Now, it's our first anniversary, and it has been such a beautiful project, not without problems during the renovation, but I have been very, very lucky."
He also looks forward to next spring, when the restaurant will offer al fresco dining, with tables outside. Friendly service, delicious food, a bottle of wine (customers are encouraged to bring their own) & what better way to relax and unwind than to join the party at Camillo's Café inside or outside!
The restaurant is open seven days: lunch 11:30 to 2:30, dinner 5 to 10; Sunday 4 to 7. Reservations are recommended, especially on weekends. (609) 252-0608.
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