Rocco Ancarola has attempted myriad New York City restaurants with varying degrees of success, but he seems to have finally found a formula that works, and perhaps the location has something to do with it. In the heart of Hoboken, who's "Hobroken" nickname
hardly holds any water anymore, he took over a 100 year old commercial bakery and spiffed it up into what has become a super popular eatery, with food good enough to hold up even in the city. That comes from the chef: Paul Gerard, a native Broolynite that cut his teeth in New Orleans, an influence who's lustiness shows up throughout the mood and the food at Antique Bakery.
The bad mood I arrived with (completely unrelated to the restaurant) dissipated quickly upon arrival, almost as quickly as four fat arancini arrived to our table- bursting with molten mozzarella that stretched into salty, oozy strings from the chewy rice and bright green peas popping with vegetality. Now unless you're sticking with a snacks-n-booze approach to the evening, one of these is more than enough to start things off with. Since there are four, divide and conquer ,or risk killing your appetite. Which is something you definitely don't want to do. Really, the food is good enough here not to have to be in Hoboken- although the bawdy clientele might betray the address, and I could certainly do without the wolf-pack howls that erupt intermittently from the kitchen. I'm assuming the latter is an energizing technique to keep up the staffs' enthusiasm, but it's not only alarming but a little silly.
Keep going though, and the menu has enough deliciousness to appease the cacophony. Not above utilizing a spiralizer in kind, long, steam-tender ribbons of summer squash are given the carbonara treatment and piled into a mouth-watering heap of veggie "noodles" thick with a garlicky, pancetta-spiked, egg-enriched cheesy sauce. Charred spears of asparagus loll across an oiled plank of toast slathered in creamy ricotta, brightened with delicate curls of lemon rind. Dishes like these illustrate that vegetables are certainly not just an afterthought: even more
manageably-portioned side dishes like blackened beets with goat cheese topped with a verdant thatch of green onion, or richly roasted Brussels sprouts apples with bulwarks of pickled apple slices, are meticulously considered.
But thing are certainly not exclusively vegecentric. A platter of Hot Oil shrimp can be order as an appetizer ($14) or entree ($27), depending on your party size, but just make sure your order enough that you get at least two or
three for yourself: they're that good. Herculean juicy specimens wallow in oil hot both in temperature and piquancy, the latter to which you can augment by adding more of the spicy rounds of chili festooned upon them. Do not resist squeezing the charred lemons atop- they add both a wanted acidity and a smoky sweetness. If you didn't already top out on toast, a crusty half baguette deftly sops up the oily juices to great effect. Hundred years old or not, that old coal-fired oven certainly didn't age itself out, bringing a superlative char to herb-rubbed hangar steak, lusciously juicy and flavorful-
although if you're a sauce-ophile, you can add your choice of herb puree, bordelaise, green peppercorn, bread & butter, samoriglio, or romesco for an extra five bucks. Good as those are, though, that meat doesnt really need 'em.
their quality almost does that alone- these are some seriously yummy sweets. A pan-sized blondie spans a good six inch diameter beneath a sort of dwarfed knob of vanilla ice cream drizzled in a fudgy, Magic Shell-ish coat. It's richly brown-sugary, honestly one of the best
brownie/blondies I've ever had, but it's just laughably too big unless you've enlisted the troops. A creamy spumoni sundae riffs on the classic Italian flavors, showered in tiny chocolate chips and candied orange peel, and seemingly as bottomless as it is delicious. The real show-stopped might be the banana split, though, featuring the eponymous fruit just this side of ripe, candied on the split side
with a caramelly glaze that emphasized the fruitiness a banana can exhibit when captured before any freckling occurs. That freshness thrived against rich scoops of peanut butter ice cream, dense and nutty, impaled with crisp chocolate wafers. But the crowning glory was the swaths of gold leaf and edible rainbow-glitter that gave this childhood classic a bit of bling and swagger, not quite vaulting it into Unicorn territory but definitely taunting Instagrammability, gilding a lily that didn't need gilding but is all the more fun as a result.
So does Rocco finally have a keeper on his hands? Oh, time will tell. Even in Jersey there's the fickleness of landlords and the tempestuous loyalties of the foodie set. But if Hoboken was my backyard, I'd definitely make myself a regular at Antique Bakery.
122 Willow Avenue
TEL. (201) 683-7029