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Tre Famiglia Ristorante
403 North Haddon Avenue
Haddonfield, Camden County, New Jersey
(856) 429-1447

By The Artful Diner
January 28, 2008

Members of the Cipollone, Berenato, and Martinelli families debuted Tre Famiglia in the early part of 2005. Their avowed purpose was to bring a generous helping of South Philly-style Italian cuisine to the Jersey suburbs. And, from this writer's perspective, they have succeeded admirably. Indeed, the diminutive storefront formerly occupied by the Little Tuna now reverberates with the comforting aromas and good-natured bustling hospitality of robust Italian cookery.

But there's an intimacy here as well: a quiet communion generated by soft, subdued lighting gently caressing snow white napery, and the genuine warmth of casually professional service. This is one of those restaurants -- and they are extremely rare -- with which one strikes up a long term relationship.

Ambiance and service notwithstanding, it is head chef/co-proprietor Mark Berenato's Italian cuisine based on his grandfather's traditional Old World favorites that keeps the establishment's loyal clientele pouring through the door. Presentations are made from scratch, with all meats hand-butchered and all fish filleted on the premises. And it is this careful attention to detail that clearly sets Tre Famiglia apart from a plethoric variety of strictly generic Italian eateries.

A starter of minestrone soup ($5.50), for example, is hearty, soul-satisfying, and generously seasoned. The clams possilippo ($10.50) are equally appealing. Plump and succulent littlenecks swim to table in a tomato-basil broth that is hard to resist. And for a variation on the bivalve theme, you also can't go wrong with the mussels possilippo ($8.50), which arrive in either a rustic rosso or delicate bianco sauce.

Salads also have a great deal to offer. The Caesar ($6.50; with anchovies, $7.50) is comprised of pristinely fresh sections of romaine lettuce tossed with a zippy homemade dressing and crowned with shavings of Pecorino-Romano cheese. The roasted peppers ($9.00) also feature incomparably fresh torn leaves of romaine, black olives, and a light balsamic dressing embraced by an armada of vertical slices of provolone.

Other antipasti include a sumptuous wedge of pan-seared panko-crusted mozzarella set in a pool of lusty pomodoro sauce ($9.50); a crisp crab spring roll companioned by peppery arugula & lemon-ginger drizzle; and a plethora of earthy sautéed mushrooms garnished with prosciutto, basil, and splash of tomato sauce.

When it comes to entrées, traditional pasta dishes hold sway. The homemade manicotti ($15.50) is superb, as is the gnocchi pomodoro ($14.50), which is also made in house. But let me hasten to add that all pasta presentations are both competently prepared and reasonably priced. The orecchiette ($16.50), for example, is tossed with sun-dried tomatoes and crumbles of sweet sausage. The menu promises "a touch of vodka in a blush sauce," but the rustic gravy is deep red, though undeniably delicious. And the pappardelle Bolognese ($18.50) is equally hearty, endowed with a rich meat sauce and freshly grated Pecorino-Romano cheese.

The kitchen is equally adept at other matters as well. The veal dishes are excellent... and they're the real thing, not the processed reconstituted Styrofoam/wet cardboard imposters often found in lesser establishments. The veal piccata ($18.50), for instance, features tender, firm-to-the-bite medallions kissed by a delicate lemon-white wine sauce topped with capers.

And fish dishes also demonstrate a good deal of finesse. The tilapia livornese ($18.00) is nicely pan seared and comes replete with black olives, capers, shallots, and a light but flavorful tomato sauce. And the royal dorade ($29.00), a nightly special, is beautifully grilled, sided by creamy pumpkin risotto & baby spring mix, and finished with a tempting mango reduction.

Among the homemade desserts, the warm apple cake with a splash of caramel and dollop of vanilla ice cream ($6.75) is a standout. And, although imported from off campus, you also can't go wrong with the peanut butter gelato tartufo.

Only one minor snafu... During our first visit -- having both long since given up the agonies and ecstasies of caffeine -- my wife and I ordered double decaf espressos ($3.00 single/$6.00 double); and I was assured, on no less than three separate occasions, that they were, indeed, caffeine free. However, heart palpitations and an irritating insomnia seemed to suggest otherwise. A relative inconvenience for us; but for those with severe reactions to caffeine, the results could have been infinitely more serious.

The above issue aside, however, Tre Famiglia Ristorante remains a highly recommendable stopover for lusty and luscious Italian cookery.

Cuisine: Italian
Hours: Open seven days: Lunch: Tues - Fri, 11:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.; Dinner: Tues- Thurs, 4:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.; Fri & Sat, 4:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.; Sun, 2:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.; CLOSED MONDAY
Credit Cards: MC, V
Attire: Casual
Reservations: Highly recommended
Parking: Street parking
Alcohol: BYOB
Price: Moderate; with some specials morphing into the expensive range
Handicapped Accessible: Wheelchair access is difficult because of the close proximity of the tables.
Website: www.trefamiglia.com

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