New Casa Gennaro Restaurant in Kingston Focuses on Italian Cuisine and Special Service
BEST FRIENDS: “I have invested in my dream. When people walk in here, they are a guest in my home. I welcome them to my casa, my home. We build our clientele by performance, and I take no one for granted.” Gennaro Costabile, owner of Casa Gennaro in Kingston, is proud to share the business with his legal partner and grandson, 5-year-old Jax.
By Jean Stratton
It’s not just about the food, but about the customers’ well-being. When they leave, we want them to feel like they can’t wait to come back!”
Gennaro Costabile, owner of the new Casa Gennaro restaurant at 4585 Route 27 (Main Street) in Kingston, works very hard to ensure that visitors to his restaurant are treated to a special dining experience — in all ways.
And indeed, they are. Many customers come every week, and it is Gennaro’s great pleasure to spend time with them. “I will serve them, and I enjoy being with my guests and talking with them,” he explains.
Gennaro has a long history in the restaurant business and a successful story to tell. A native of Italy, he came to the U.S. in 1983 after meeting his American wife-to-be in Venice, where he was working at a hotel.
As a boy, he had also spent eight years in Germany, when his parents moved to Stuttgart. Returning to Naples, he later attended Concierge School in Sorrento, with the intention of embarking on a career in the hospitality field.
Arriving in the U.S., he and his wife settled in her home area of Utica, N.Y., and Gennaro found work in a restaurant. Ambitious and enterprising, he looked forward to taking on more responsibility.
“In 1992, we moved to New Jersey when I was offered a job as general manager in a restaurant in South Plainfield,” he recalls. “I always wanted my own place, my own operation, however, and in 1995, I opened Caffe Piazza in Hillsborough. Then in 1999, I opened La Terrazza, a Spanish restaurant in Princeton on State Road. This later became Gennaro’s Restaurant in 2003.”
The popularity of these restaurants (he sold Caffe Piazza in 2005) encouraged him to add catering to the business, and, ultimately, another food establishment. In 2014, he opened Gennaro’s Italian Market & Catering at 4587 Route 27 in Kingston.
“It was my intention to have a market and a headquarters for the catering business,” says Gennaro. In addition, he took the unusual step of selecting his grandson, Jax, then a baby, as his legal partner.
“I made Jax my partner as a way of remembering what my grandfather, Francesco Pollio, had done for me long ago,” he explains. “When I was born, he set aside 5,000 Italian lira for me so that I would have something to count on. I want to pass on to Jax the same values of hard work, honesty, and integrity that my grandfather gave to me. What is important is family, friendship, and integrity.
“Who I Am”
“Jax ‘works’ on Saturday,” continues Gennaro, “and he likes to greet people and welcome them to Casa Gennaro. He saves the money he earns and uses it to buy toys for poor children. We go to the store together, get the toys, and then take them to the church mission in Trenton. It’s important for him to learn to appreciate all that he has and to realize that not everyone is so fortunate.
“Growing up in Italy, we were very poor. The only thing we had was love, which actually was the most important thing. My mother didn’t even have a washboard to wash clothes, and so my father made one for her. I still have this. I keep it as a symbol. It reminds me of who I am. We’ll say ‘remember the board!’”
While he certainly appreciates his successful career in the restaurant business, Gennaro is always aware of the importance of family and friends and what matters most to him in life.
“With the restaurant for me, it’s not about the money. You can have all the money, but without love, it doesn’t matter.”
He also appreciates his staff, many of whom have been with him for 10 or more years. “I wouldn’t be a success without them, including Chef Benjamin Brault and my assistant in every way, Lorena Bolivar. They are my friends as well as business associates. Chef Benjamin has been with me 16 years. He is a very talented chef, and has his own recipes and his own creations. Lorena has been with me for 14 years.”
The new Casa Gennaro, which is located next door to the market, came into being when the building became available. Formerly a business office, it was ideally situated for a new restaurant to emerge, which could benefit from the market’s existing kitchen and proximity. And, as was the case with Jax and the market, Gennaro has made his brand-new granddaughter, Rae Ann, his legal partner with the new establishment.
A renovation was necessary for the building’s transformation into a restaurant, and also to add parking space in the rear, he reports. “It took 18 months to get everything done and get all the approvals. We had to get approvals from the municipality, Middlesex County, the state, and the historical society.”
“Our new Casa Gennaro is a smaller version of the State Road restaurant, which we closed,” he explains. “We focus on Italian cuisine, but we also include Spanish, Mexican, Caribbean, and French dishes. We have a variety of Chef’s Specials, including the very popular Short Ribs — braised boneless Angus beef ribs, with wild mushroom and tomato ragout, and homemade egg pappardelle.”
Customers will also find the house signature appetizer, Greens Gennaro, featuring escarole, prosciutto, hot cherry peppers, and formaggio misto — a real customer favorite. Insalata Contadina is also in demand, with field greens, ricotta salata, dried cranberries, roasted corn, mushrooms, grape tomatoes, and sherry vinaigrette.
Pasta dishes are always on the menu, including Pappardelle Bolognese, with homemade egg pappardelle, and Bolognese ragout; also, Linguini Nero, including squid ink linguini, shrimp and calamari, white wine garlic sauce, capers, tomato, and basil.
Seafood is very popular, points out Gennaro, and Scallops Arrosto, with pan-seared day boat scallops, creamy arborio risotto, portobello mushrooms, and spinach is a big favorite, as is the chef specialty, Branzino Corfu, featuring roasted filet of Mediterranean sea bass, grape tomatoes, capers, lemon, EVOO, and vegetable risotto.
Also in demand is Pork Braciola, with pine nuts, roasted pepper, oreganato bread crumbs, spinach, garlic, parsley, and homemade gnocchi.
Gennaro adds that customizing and tailoring dishes to clients’ dietary needs and tastes is also possible. Vegetarian and vegan dishes are also always offered.
Dining out at Casa Gennaro is not complete without sampling one of the restaurant’s tempting desserts. Specialties include almond tiramisu, homemade gelato, cannoli, panna cotta, and the traditional favorite, sfogliatelle.
Coffee, cappuccino, and espresso are all available, and the special espresso machine and espresso beans are imported from Italy. Casa Gennaro does not have a liquor license, and many customers enjoy bringing a bottle of wine to accompany dinner.
The menu is affordable, says Gennaro, with pasta dishes from $22. “I consider the restaurant affordable elegance,” he says.
Casa Gennaro offers seating for 35, within a very warm, attractive setting. Handsome wooden tables, burgundy cloth napkins, and a comfortable sense of space all contribute to a charming decor. Also featured are black-and-white vintage photos of scenes of Naples (c. 1800s and early 1900s), a gift from Gennaro’s mother, Amelia Pollio. In addition, black-and-white photos of famous Italian celebrities, such as Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida, and Marcello Mastroianni, among others, are displayed.
The restaurant is available for private parties, and Gennaro also has a thriving catering business. “We are a full-service caterer, doing every kind of event, including weddings or small dinner parties. Whatever the size of the event, we will make it special for you.”
Gennaro’s success has heightened his awareness of the importance to giving back. As he says, “I always want to give back to this great country that adopted me, and I can do this by helping others. In 2001, I funded Food For America, a nonprofit organization which raises money to help others, and registered with the state of New Jersey. We were able to donate $20,000 to New Jersey Farmers Against Hunger. Bruce Springsteen matched our donation, and when he mentioned the organization at one of his concerts, we raised another $17,000.
“I also established the Caring Cooks Academy. We bring in companies involved in team building, and invite them to lunch at Casa Gennaro. After lunch, we take them into the kitchen and show them how to prepare what they had to eat. When they master it, they then make it for the charitable organization Center For Great Expectations in Somerset. A lot of companies have been part of this, and have made and contributed many meals.”
Gennaro is very grateful that his chosen career is something that he loves, and he makes it a point to continue to learn and broaden his horizons. “Every day, I think ‘what can I learn and how can I make the restaurant better?’ I educate myself in the business. The details make the difference. We have to sell ourselves every day.
“It has to be a new experience, as if it is always the first day, so that customers have a special memory — as special as when they remember that first kiss!
“The restaurant is the culmination of my career. I love the business, and the biggest thing is my enthusiasm for it and the enjoyment in what we do. Everything here is a reflection of that. Coming to work is fun!”
Casa Gennaro is open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday for dinner, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Reservations are strongly recommended. (609) 683-1212.