San Marzano Pasta Bar, located at 339 South Ave., is enjoying a soft opening this week before celebrating its official grand opening on May 18.
The eatery is named for the San Marzano tomatoes, imported from Italy, that co-owner Joseph Petracca said are the secret to his brother-in-law and business partner chef Maurizio Minniti's sauce.
"There's no sugar in it, no preservatives," Petracca said. "Everything is made fresh. Nothing is frozen."
All the pasta is homemade by Minniti as well. The chef, who has owned two restaurants previously, one in England and one in Italy, most recently worked with Mario Batali.
Petracca, who serves as the resident pizza purveyor, trained in Rome for three months to perfect his dough, which he allows to rise for 48 to 56 hours, before kneading and baking in a wood-fired oven.
San Marzano's pie differs from the traditional pizza in many ways, Petracca explained. 'Pizza al Taglio' is cooked in a long, rectangular pan and relatively thin. Petracca said diners can choose the size of their own slices, which are cut with scissors, and pay by the weight.
"It's so light, you could eat a whole pie yourself," he said. "But you can try an inch if you want to. We are the only place in New Jersey doing it this way. Westfield should be proud."
The entrepreneur, who lives in Kenilworth, said he and his brother-in-law chose to start their business in town because they believe residents and those who work in the area will appreciate what the pasta bar has to offer.
In addition to its pasta and pizza, the shop features paninis, salads and freshly-made soups. A ricotta cheesecake is another specialty of the house.
"That, he won't tell me how he makes," Petracca said with a laugh. "I know he uses ricotta, maybe cream, and some vanilla beans. It is as light as panna cotta."
Located directly across from the train station, San Marzano's opens at 6 a.m. to offer espresso, cappuccino, organic black leaf tea and other hot beverages to commuters.
The cafe strives to recreate the flavors that Petracca and Minniti grew up with in their native Italy. They are incorporating their favorites from as far south as Siciliy and as far north as Milan as well as some of the classics that Americans know and love.
"We want to bring the good memories with us," said Petracca, who streams music from an Italian radio station throughout the restaurant. "We have had a lot of moms with kids come in. It is nice and open, very casual, and bright, not the traditional dark of an Italian restaurant. We will have outdoor seating in a few weeks."
Petracca said his and Minniti's motto is "Mangiere, Bene E Sano" which translates to "eat, good and healthy."
"It's all about simplicity and authenticity," he said.
Although he is still hiring and training his staff, Petracca said customers are welcome to come in and check out the eatery prior to next week's opening.
For more information, visit San Marzano's Facebook page or call 908-232-3222.