Monday, November 14, 2011

Review: Casa Nova Brick Oven Pizza Restaurant, Staten Island

On a Saturday night, traveling through Staten Island, we wanted pizza. I knew that Lee's Tavern would be mobbed. We gambled on Denino's because of its larger dining room. To our dismay, there were dozens waiting to get a table, so we reluctantly moved on. Google maps (on the Android) pointed us to "Original Sicilian" as a nearby 5-star pizza location on Victory Blvd.

Upon arrival, we found the Original Sicilian pizza shop to be a small place in a weathered strip mall that also housed an "adult entertainment" establishment. We were not inspired by the look of the place. It seemed like another mom'n'pop pizza joint churning out cookie-cutter pies with Sysco ingredients. Maybe we were wrong, though -- we got this very thoughtful comment from the owners:

"Sorry that you did not give our Pizzeria a try because if you did you would have found out what a great product that we put out. We use only the freshest ingredients with no perservatives or additives. Please let me invite you and your family on your next visit to Staten Island come by and have a Pizza on the house!
P.S. I can not pick who gets to rent a store, I don't own the shopping center and we close long before they open ! Thank you."
Nearby, however, we saw Casa Nova. Glancing inside, we saw tables full of diners. It seemed a bit more full service and upscale than we had been seeking, but we were low on options. We went inside.

Click on any image to enlarge
We got a very gracious greeting from a man who seemed to be an owner. He asked us if we were "with Joe" and I replied that we were not. Still, he treated us like regulars and found us a table, even though the place was hopping and we had no reservations. He was a genuine New York character, dressed in all dark clothes, including a dark blazer over a dark sweater with lots of gold chains and slicked back hair.

 Casa Nova was buzzing with happy patrons. Large groups of old ladies, some couples, and some groups of friends. Service was friendly. It is NOT a pizza place, despite the sign on the awning. However, they had a $5 "bar pie" for an appetizer so of course I ordered it (after we each chose a $6 glass of Chianti). For my entree, I kept it simple and selected the $14 lasagna while EPBAC (eats pizza but avoids cheese) chose angel hair Bolognese for $20.

Before the pie arrived, they brought a huge basket of assorted breads. There was half of a plain torpedo roll, a few small rectangles of tomato pie (delicious!), some crispy toasts that seemed to be generously treated with olive oil, and some chewy cylinders in a breadstick style. It was a great assortment that came with three dipping sauces - oil and garlic, bruschetta-style tomato mix, and what seemed like roasted peppers in red sauce. The peppers mix was scrumptious and we ate most of it. We could only make a minor dent in that breadbasket, knowing all the food to follow.

The pizza soon followed. It had a proper thin and crispy crust, which was consistent with the high quality of the bread basket. You'd never mistake it for Lee's or Denino's, but it was a solid bar pie with a Trenton-style (as compared to Neapolitan) crust. The sauce and cheese were tasty but certainly unremarkable. I give the crust a 7.5, and the sauce/cheese a 5 rating. Overall, let's call this pie a 6.25. It would be one of the best pizzas in West Chester PA.

Before the entrees, they brought us medium-sized green salads served overflowing on small plates. Conventional ingredients included iceberg, romaine, pink Florida tomatoes, onion, and black olives. The curious twist was that we weren't asked about dressing choice -- they just came with French dressing. I rarely choose French but the sweet tomato-ey dressing was a nice change of pace.

My lasagna was a generous portion that emphasized the cheese and sausage inside and on top over the layers of pasta. It was tasty, but not special in any way. EPBAC had ordered the Bolognese with angel hair in place of the standard penne. The server brought out penne Bolognese; we informed him of the error and it was correctly quickly. The pasta was perfectly fine, but the Bolognese really lacked spark. This dish can be sublime (especially at  Nonna's restaurant in West Chester PA) when the ingredients are in balance. I think perhaps there was plenty of beef but too little of the vegetable textures and flavors.

My half-eaten lasagna
Casa Nova is distinctly New York and distinctly Staten Island. Images of ballparks and players and Yankees on the walls and a fairly homogeneous crowd on a Saturday Night. The kind of place where "everybody knows your name." We were clearly outsiders but were treated like regulars. The owner keeps a tip jar bar the door to collect for autism. We were lucky to stumble into a place where the locals enjoy a Saturday night out eating hearty Italian food.

The food was good, nothing was great or memorable. We took home three slices of bar pie, two thirds of the bread basket (too good to waste), half of the lasagna, and two thirds of the Bolognese. The service was friendly if occasionally slow or mixing up an order. Good service and the right ambiance can go a long way; it matters as much as the food. I'm giving a thumbs-up to Casa Nova. It's a warm and inviting neighborhood place. 

Casa Nova Restaurant on Urbanspoon


  1. Sorry that you did not give our Pizzeria a try Because if you did you would have found out what a great product that we put out. We use only the Freshest ingredients with no perservatives or additives Please let me invite you and your family on your next visit to Staten Island come by and have a Pizza on the house !
    P.S. I can not pick who gets to rent a store, I don't own the shopping center. and we close long before they open ! Thank you

  2. Thanks for that thoughtful reply! Perhaps indeed we were too quick to judge a book by its cover. I will surely stop in if I get back to the neighborhood. I edited the review to be less pre-judgmental.