Points of interest:
- Boisterous BYOB atmosphere
- Earthshakingly good vodka sauce
- Roman trattoria culture
Simply put, Italian trattorias are wacky family restaurants. They offer hearty meals, decent prices, plenty of vino, and a casual bustling atmosphere for large parties to conversate loudly. To me, trattorias are the gastronomic ideal to which all Italian restaurants in America should aspire. In Hoboken NJ, Cafe Michelina hits all these points…perfectly.
Mike had been wanting to eat here for months. Really? That hole in the wall with neon lights and the dry erase board of specials? But his sister gave it rave reviews, it is literally around the corner, and no one felt like cooking. So we go.
We walk into Cafe Michelina at 9pm on a Saturday night. The one room dining area is a cacophony of large parties, couples, laughter, loud talking, bottles clinking, and hair-gelled waiters rushing around in Armani Exchange t-shirts. I’m pretty sure everyone is pre-gaming…or maybe this is the game. The decor is an afterthought. Random oil paintings are scattered on the walls. Boticelli’s Venus head has been severed, reproduced, and plastered onto every table. No candles. No tablecloths. No fuss.
Beautiful. We are in Italy.
We are seated at a small table near a large party. These people have white wine, red wine, several types of beer, vodka, and Smirnoff Ice. We feel like lightweights with our single bottle of red wine…but carry on. The menu looks good, but the dry-erase board specials beckon. And lo! A large basket of bread and bruschetta appears. There is officially no more room left on the table. I am tingling with excitement.
I order stuffed manicotti with chicken and vodka sauce. It is heavenly…rich, tender, slightly chunky, and very fresh. Mike says it’s like crack and I have to keep slipping him bits of it. He orders pasta with chicken, fresh mozzerella, tomato, and broccoli rabe. Also very good. The romantic glow from the green and pink neon lights in the windows have a lulling effect, as we finish the bottle and swear our new allegiance to this place. You were right Mike! You were right.
It occurs to me suddenly, that this is the only place I can bring my want-to-be-Italian mother for her birthay…so we arrive exactly one week later. It was perfect. Cafe Michelina is the ideal place for a festive BYOB event or birthday. Your party can be as loud as it wants. Just make sure you make a reservation! Ma stepped it up that night and secretly ordered shrimp parmesan over ziti with loads of vodka sauce. We all nearly died of jealousy. We finished the evening with homemade cannoli and sambuca con tre mosca (coffee beans) for luck. Salud!
And so, I want to have my birthdays here now. Every year, at this magical Hoboken trattoria.
Cafe Michelina’s website : http://www.cafemichelina.com/