Assante Ristorante Italiano

By Cathy Kiley

At the intersection of Rt. 329 and Main Street in Northampton sits an unpretentious white brick building that houses Assante Ristorante Italiano.

From the moment you park your car and walk to the entrance, the delicious aromas emanating from inside let you know you are in for a treat.

We were greeted at the door by family matriarch Louisa Assante, who immediately made us feel at home and introduced us to the rest of the clan. Tom and I sat and enjoyed a glass of Ocone Aglianico, a deep red wine poured by eldest daughter Rosanna, who explained that this wine is reminiscent of robust house wines served in Italy and is as close as you can get without being there. Besides manning the bar, Rosanna is also the restaurant’s award-winning pastry chef, famous for her chocolate Tiramisu.

Younger daughter Nuncia stopped by to introduce herself, as did her dad, Mario, who creates the restaurant’s wonderful homemade breads and specialty pizzas. His son, Chef Giulio Assante, received his training in Italy and can be found in the kitchen every day alongside brother-in-law Chef Mauro, Rosanna’s husband. Last but not least was younger son Nicola, who kept in perpetual motion all night working the tables and chatting with diners.

While we looked over the menu, Mario sent hot freshly-baked breads to the table with both garlic and oil and sundried tomato dipping sauces that, in my opinion, should be bottled and sold. He also sent over a sample of homemade focaccia (delicious!) that is usually served to patrons waiting at the bar on busy nights. Tom and I agreed that we could make a meal of it but opted for only a taste in preparation for what was yet to come. As an appetizer, we shared the rustic Spinach and Artichoke Turnovers. These fried pastry pockets were filled with vegetables and cheese and served over a light marinara sauce. We both loved this tasty, unique starter with its interesting combination of tastes and textures. The chefs also insisted we sample their mozzarella made fresh daily, served with ripe tomatoes and extra virgin olive oil. It was a denser version which Tom very much enjoyed.

All dinners are served with soup or fresh house salad. Tom opted for pasta e fagioli, which was more refined and lighter than we usually find. My soup of the day, a lightly-creamed roasted garlic and onion soup, was fantastically flavorful and very different from other onion soups I’ve had. Additional soup choices are minestrone and chicken. Hot appetizers on the menu include sautéed mussels or clams in a garlic, herb, oil and wine sauce, clams casino and fried calamari. There are specialty salads, antipasto Italiana and bruschettas to consider as well.

For his entrée, Tom chose gnocchi with Assante’s famous Napoli sauce, a mouth-watering combination of sautéed garlic, extra virgin olive oil, sausage, broccoli rabe and shrimp in a white wine sauce. He raved about this dish and the small sampling he shared proved him right. The spicy sausage added a bit of a zip while the rabe gave its own pungent flavor to the tender homemade gnocchi. My entrée, Veal Teresa, was equally delicious. Succulent veal cutlets were sautéed with Portobello mushrooms, artichokes, onions and sundried tomatoes in a brown Cabernet sauce. We thought this a wonderful combination, rich in flavors with a sauce not too heavy. Both meals were wonderful and generous enough to allow us to enjoy them again the following evening. We selected a bottle of the same wine we tried at the bar, Ocone Aglianico. It was perfect with our choices and, as is true with Assante’s other wine selections, moderately priced.

All pasta is homemade and there are at least a dozen pasta dishes on the menu as well as 10 other entrée selections that may be prepared with either chicken or veal. Seafood preparations include Zuppa di Pesce with either red or white wine sauces, Calamari fra diavolo, Sole Francais and Shrimp Scampi, to name a few. There were also five specials that night including lobster tail, rib eye steak and a 14-ounce veal chop prepared ala Saltimboca.

In addition to the dinner menu, Chef Mario prepares both traditional and gourmet pizzas that are available throughout the day. Also on the menu are hot and cold sandwiches, Stromboli and calzones. I must point out that Assante offers gluten-free pizza and cheese ravioli for their gluten-sensitive clientele.

Just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, then came dessert. We tried two. Of course, one had to be Rosanna’s chocolate Tiramisu, which may be the best I have ever tasted. Rich yet light, this version is something to be tried by all. Our other dessert choice was almost as delicious: A three-layer cake of rich dark, white and milk chocolates that, instead of being creamy, was dense and scrumptious. Together with wonderful espresso, this was a perfect ending to delicious meal.

In this spot for seven years, Assante has recently been tastefully redecorated yet remains casual. It is obvious that many of the clientele are regular customers, friendly with the Assantes and familiar with the menu. It is easy to understand why customers keep coming back, not only for the delicious food, but for the joyful environment provided by the Assante family and friends on staff. Tom and I enjoyed dining here. The food was great and the experience was made more pleasant by the wonderful family who cooks the food, serves the public, and takes pride in what they do. I don’t think I have ever been made to feel more like family in any restaurant—ever—anywhere! They take reservations, make you feel at home with great service and good conversation and let you stay as long as you wish.

Make plans to visit Assante Ristorante Italiano at 2050 Main Street in Northampton and savor some great food with the family. They open every day for lunch at 11:00 a.m. and do not close in the evening until they say “good night” to the last dinner guest. Call 610-262-1301 for reservations or visit their website, assantesrestaurant.com, for complete menu and other information.

Cathy Kiley has enjoyed fine cuisine from around the world and written restaurant reviews for the last 20 years both in the Lehigh Valley and on Long Beach Island, NJ.

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