Anthony Vitiello would be proud of the legacy he created. The Naples, Italy, native learned how to cook in the Italian Merchant Marines and brought his family to the United States for a better life in the early 1950s, settling in Brooklyn. After working at a few Italian restaurants, he realized that the busiest ones were Americanized. With his savings, he bought Regina Pizza and translated the Italian “Regina” to its American version: Queen. While the building was under renovation, he kept the locals pleased by serving 5-cent slices from a window.
The popular Queen Pizzeria fueled demand for more Old World cooking from Vitiello, and so he expanded, opening an Italian restaurant with an extensive menu.
Soon, his two sons, Vincent and Pasquino, who studied culinary arts, joined him, honing the menu to more regional Italian classics.
After Anthony passed away, the brothers reinvented the restaurant, launching the next phase for Queen. It was here that Pasquino’s son, Michael Vitiello, learned the business from his father and uncle, working at Queen for 14 of its 64-plus years of uninterrupted business.
When the brothers decided to close the Queen in the spirit of safety during the pandemic and Vincent retired, Vitiello, who was raised in Bergen County, and his father, who lived in Oradell, began talking about bringing their successful Brooklyn business model of Italians cooking authentic food to New Jersey.
During the shutdown, Vitiello began spending more time with his fiancé, now wife, Michelle, who lived in Bernardsville—and he fell in love with the area and the people.
While out for drinks with Michelle and her parents at Rudolph’s Steakhouse, Vitiello started admiring the building and its potential. “It was like a castle,” he says. He spotted the owner at a back table and with the same creative tenacity of his grandfather serving pizza slices through a window, Vitiello hatched a plan.
“I couldn’t just walk up to him and offer to buy him out,” he says. “I ordered a crazy bottle of wine—a 1987 Lisini Brunello—from his personal wine list, knowing it would make him curious. I knew the bartender would break the cork; it had been on the shelf for 30 years. Lo and behold that is what happened. The owner jumped up, grabbed a strainer and decanter and next thing you know, I am telling him my story about wanting to open my restaurant in Bernardsville—and he offered to show me his building for consideration.”
Once the sale was final, Vitiello and his father set to work, renovating the building in 50 days, importing materials from Italian leather to a white Carrara marble bar, restoring the circa-1900s copper ceiling and painting the walls in the bar a high-gloss cobalt blue. “We wanted this to be a neighborhood place like you’d get in New York’s West Village—a place that is high end, but where you wouldn’t need a jacket,” he says.
They opened Ristorante MV and Trattoria MV (“an Italian twist on your modern sports bar”) in March 2021. “We replicated all our multi-generational family recipes from Queen with attention to quality ingredients,” he says. “Our sauce is a big hit. No one makes tomato sauce like we do; it’s an eight-hour process, rendering prosciutto and roasting pork skins and veal trimmings with the tomatoes, onions and garlic.”
As a tribute to their management, 75 percent of the staff is from Queen. “Some have been with us over 40 years; we have a long history with this crew,” Vitiello says. “As chef-owners, my dad and I are on the line, working the broiler, plating and finishing.”
Although reservations currently extend upward of two months, take heart: If you walk in or make a reservation between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. on a Monday or Wednesday, you may catch a coveted seat. And when you do, don’t be surprised if you spot prominent business executives, politicians or football players like Saquon Barkley and Eli Manning at a table nearby.
“I have so much gratitude to my father and uncle, who taught me this business and so many life lessons,” he says. “In the office there is a photo of my grandfather. He would be proud to see how far we took his company and that we are still making everything in-house. He started with nickles and dimes and his business evolved into this. He gave jobs to so many people and helped families have a better life. I feel honored to be a part of what he started.”
Reserve a table at ristorantemv.com.
Linguine alla Norma
Extra virgin olive oil
2 Japanese eggplants
3 garlic cloves
2 fresh vine ripe tomatoes
1 can La Valle DOP whole canned tomatoes
Salt, oregano, red pepper, basil and parsley
1 lb De Cecco linguine
3 tbs Pecorino Romano cheese
Put a pot of water on to boil, adding salt to the point it has the same salinity of the Mediterranean Sea.
Crush canned tomatoes by hand.
Zebra-stripe the eggplant (peel from top to bottom in a row and then skip a row and then peel another row).
Cut the eggplant into small squares.
Dice vine ripe tomatoes.
Grate Ricotta Salata.
Coat a small fry pan with oil and fry eggplant squares for about 4 minutes. Remove and let dry on a paper towel.
In a saucepan, add virgin olive oil and diced garlic, and put on medium heat.
When the garlic is golden, add the chopped tomato and sauté for a few minutes over a low flame.
Add crushed tomatoes. (Depending on how much you’re making, you don’t want to lose the fresh vine ripe tomato in the canned so add just enough to make a base.)
Add the eggplant to the mixture and let simmer for 20 minutes, adding salt, oregano, red pepper, basil and parsley to taste.
Add linguine to the boiling water. In about 8 minutes, the linguine will be at the perfect al dente and will be ready to strain.
Remove about one-half of the sauce from the saucepan and place in another pot. Toss the linguine in one pot filled with half of the sauce and put on low heat, while continually moving the pasta. The sauce will adhere to the pasta.
After about 5 minutes of sauteing the pasta, turn off heat. Add Pecorino Romano and mix.
Plate the pasta and top with the extra sauce and Ricotta Salata.