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New Jersey Restaurant Review

Illiano's
75 12th Street
Hammonton, Atlantic County, New Jersey
(609) 561-3444

By The Artful Diner
Special to New Jersey Online
1/10/2000

While I wouldn't go out of my way to throw on the feedbag at Illiano's, should you happen to be passing through the area, or sampling the outstanding liquid libations at the nearby Tomasello Winery, this casual, family-oriented BYOB eatery is certainly worth a look-see. The home-style Italian cuisine is dished out in copious portions, the prices are downright inflation busters, and the efficient female servers are equal to the challenge on even the busiest of evenings. Apart from a few minor glitches -- and the deplorable condition of the restrooms -- a meal here can be quite enjoyable.

You enter the restaurant through the brightly-lit pizzeria, where patrons await their orders to travel; the dining room, however, is more subdued and inviting -- though hardly picturesque -- boasting a bevy of functional glass-topped booths and tables adorned with paper place mats and cloth napkins. And be forewarned: as this establishment caters to families, children of every age, shape and description are likely to be both seen and heard. In other words, should you and your significant other be in search of a quiet, romantic evening, you would do well to stake your culinary claim elsewhere.

Portions, as noted above, are simply gigantic; and since your meal also includes a small salad of mixed greens or a hale 'n' hearty cup of minestrone -- and the most downright scrumptious pizza/garlic sticks it has ever been my pleasure to ingest -- you may wish to consider sharing one of the excellent appetizers. The spinach sauteed with garlic and tomatoes in extra virgin olive oil ($4.25) is the best of this particular genre that I have sampled in recent memory. The greens are done to a turn, not the least bit gritty, and the seasonings are just right. And the broccoli saute ($4.25) is equally up to the mark. Or, if you really can't decide, you may always default to the vegetable combo ($4.50), featuring the aforementioned spinach, broccoli and tomatoes, dressed with a yummy assortment of sauteed mushrooms.

But if shellfish are more to your liking, be sure to give the black mussels ($5.95) a try. They are perfectly tender and come swimming in a light white sauce or an earthy red. The clams posillipo ($7.95), twelve littleneck clams, are similarly embellished. Both are commendable starters.

The same main courses are available at both lunch and dinner, with smaller portions (and prices) prevailing between 11:00 a.m - 3:00 p.m. Pastas ($6.25/$8.50) are quite popular here -- and with good reason. All are well prepared, extremely tasty and, unless you have an inordinately large appetite, will almost certainly necessitate the use of a "doggy bag." Among my favorites: caprese, highlighting fresh chopped tomatoes, mozzarella and basil; pomodoro, fresh chopped tomato sauce with basil and oregano; puttanesca, capers, olives, mushrooms and fresh chopped tomatoes; arrabiate, a hot and spicy blend of onions, olives, pepperoncino, prosciutto, mushrooms and fresh chopped tomatoes; and bolognese, ground veal, onions and carrots in a top-notch tomato sauce. And while you're at it, be sure to add a side of meatballs or sausage ($2.00 extra).

Chicken dishes ($7.50 lunch/$12.50 dinner) and veal selections ($7.95/$13.95) run the usual gamut -- parmigiana, francaise, piccata -- and all are notably satisfying. Ditto a variety of shrimp entrees ($7.95/$13.95). There is also at least one finned creature in the spotlight on any given evening. Most recently it was the baccala pizzaiola ($14.95), salt cod over linguine in a rustic tomato sauce replete with capers and black olives. Good but not exceptional. The kitchen appears to be infinitely more at home with crustaceans and bivalves than it does with finny fare.

If you're a pizza fan, as is my wife, this is surely the place to assuage your cravings. And the stars of the show are undoubtedly the gourmet personal pizzas. Be sure to sample the capricciosa ($8.00), artichokes, black olives, ham, tomato, and buffalo mozzarella; positano ($9.00), chopped tomatoes with olive oil and garlic topped with crab meat; or the primavera ($7.00), baby greens, chopped tomatoes, and sharp provolone cheese.

Since all the preceding items are homemade and impeccably fresh, it is something of a mystery as to why this establishment sees fit to spoil things by importing Bindi's cryogenic confections. And given the reasonable prices across the board, a few of these icy delicacies, which will set you back as much as $5.50 per, seem inordinately expensive by comparison. Save your wallet any undue distress and opt instead for the cannoli filled with ricotta cheese (2 for $3.00/1 for $1.75) or the cheesecake ($3.25) and finish things off with an acceptable cup of coffee ($.95).

Speaking of spoiling things... that brings us to the subject of the restrooms. And they are absolutely, positively, consummately FILTHY. The worst I have encountered anywhere. The toilet in the men's room was completely stopped up; and my wife reported that the two in the ladies' room were in similar condition. And the malodorous effluvium emanating from both was enough to make us toss our tortellini. Had we paid a call here prior to settling in at table, we most assuredly would have sought an immediate change of venue.

Would I pay a return visit? Perhaps. All things considered, this homey eatery has a lot going for it. The food is generally up to snuff, and the tariffs are more than reasonable... But one glance at the reprehensible state of the bathroom facilities, and serious doubts as to this restaurant's overall commitment to cleanliness spring immediately to mind. It's your call.

Cuisine: Italian
Hours: Open seven days a week. Lunch: 11:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.; Dinner: 3:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.
Credit Cards: All major except Diners Club
Attire: Very casual
Smoking: Smoking is not permitted in the restaurant
Reservations: Not necessary
Parking: Onsite
Alcohol: BYOB

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