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Good and Plenty: Ristorante Fieni’s

by James Verde; Photo by Douglas Bovitt

Ristorante Fieni’s
800 S. Burnt Mill Road, Voorhees
(856) 428-2700
4 forks

It’s easy to miss the low-slung bungalow that contains Ristorante Fieni’s, looking more like the lair of an elderly aunt than the home of a pasta parlor that’s been pleasing regulars for 16 years.

Unmemorable, though, is not how I’d characterize the food. South Jersey has no shortage of Italian eateries—but with serious house-made pastas, quality proteins, from-scratch desserts and that unusual breed of intuitive, familiar service that can only thrive in family-owned joints, Fieni’s manages to float to the top of the red-gravy tide.

Normally, I’d roll my eyes at our slick waiter calling the pair of middle-aged women at the next table “girls,” or sharing a shot of something mocha-colored and creamy with a group of history teachers. (Fieni’s one dining room is so snug I hardly had to eavesdrop to learn their professions.) But with a bellyful of homey, well-prepared food, (and given the fact that the front-of-house staff is actually efficient), the artifice feels, well, less artificial.

Ripe smiles of cantaloupe are the right way to start. The melon is swaddled in sheets of pink prosciutto, a ubiquitous-in-Italia antipasto you’d think more restaurants here would serve. It’s a classic combination of sweet and salty, the salinity of the ham luring the melon’s nectar to the surface in glistening dewdrops—summery, fresh and addicting. With bottle of dry, mineral rosé, (Fieni’s is BYOB), it’s hard to imagine a better warm-weather snack.

Well, maybe the shrimp cocktail. The icy crustaceans hung like coat hooks off the rim of a martini glass filled with cocktail sauce—and, of all things, spring mix—about as passé as presentations get. But that couldn’t detract from the shrimp. These U-10 specimens were fat and firm, the hot zip of horseradish accenting their oceanic sweetness. Shrimp cocktail might not be as Italian as, say, Fieni’s scrippelle soup, but it’s just as worthy of a spot on the menu—though if that golden soup had been a shade less salty, it might have been the best thing Fieni’s served me, full of sliced egg-crepe scrolls unfurling in the homey chicken broth.

The soup (or a salad) comes complimentary with entrees, a thoughtful touch. But with added appetizers and a breadbasket served with roasted garlic oil, finishing our entrees became impossible. Ordering pasta turned out to be overkill—but there was no resisting the promise of fettuccine Alfredo tossed with spinach leaves and nuggets of crabmeat. The flat wide noodles are made in house, and the Fieni’s crew cooks them just to the point of al dente. The spinach and crab stood out—the Alfredo sauce was uncommonly light—but the star was clearly the fresh stretchy fettuccine, which tasted like nothing you’d buy in a box. Same went for the cannelloni della nonna, a set of stuffed cylinders as long and skinny as Charleston Chews. The thin pasta sheets hugged a puree of roasted veal mixed with ricotta, Parmesan and herbs. The cannelloni reclined in a blushing sauce aurora, Italian for dawn. It felt like dawn would be the next time I could possibly eat again; then the server appeared with the dessert tray, and I managed to make room to accommodate the pineapple ricotta cheesecake (heavenly, if not very pineappley) and lush zuppa inglese. Together with coffee, the desserts brought the bill to just under $50 a head, extremely reasonable given both quantity and quality. No wonder Fieni’s has such an ardent fan club. Are they accepting new members?

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 4 (July, 2011).
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