At Osteria Morini, authentic Italian cuisine, just like grandma used to make—and family fun—are on the menu.
The Bernardsville restaurant, which received three stars from The Star-Ledger and New Jersey Monthly, and its sister, Nicoletta Pizzeria, share a common backroom space, making them ideal venues for multi-generational events and celebrations.
“Osteria Morini is elevated dining, and Nicoletta is more casual American Italian, but they’re both about communal dining, a family shared theory of eating,” says Corporate Executive Chef Bill Dorrler, adding that diners may also order à la carte by course.
The fun at Osteria Morini begins at the chef’s counter, a marble-top area outside the kitchen where diners can watch the staff cutting sausages with the hand-cranked slicer, shucking oysters and making mozzarella.
It continues at the restaurant’s various events, including $15 pasta nights every Monday.
“We make all of our own pastas on site,” Dorrler says. “We have one team devoted to this and two pasta machines: One is an extruder that makes the various shapes and the other is a roller for sheets of dough of various flavors like beet and spinach.”
Osteria Morini’s Northern Italian cuisine is from Emilia-Romagna, the “Breadbasket of Italy” that gave the world prosciutto, mortadella, parmigiano and balsamic vinegar.
“Our recipes are based on old-world Italian ones,” he says. “They have been passed down for generations. But we remake them in a way that is fresh and innovative.”
Start with a drink at the bar and a salumi platter. Then add Melanzana (smoked eggplant “meatballs,” pomodoro, ricotta pinenut-raisin gremolata), Cappelletti (truffled ricotta ravioli with prosciutto) or Tagliatelle (Bolognese, parmigiano).
Or order the Parmigiana (breaded chicken, San Marzano tomatoes and mozzarella with a choice of rigatoni or spinach) or the Pollo Al Forno (herb-roasted chicken, pesto trapanese, grilled asparagus and sugo).
You might well ask what Dorrler, an Irish kid from Jersey, is doing running Italian restaurants. Well, it’s not something he started out to do, but he’s sure glad things worked out this way because, he says, “I love what I do. Hospitality is in my DNA.”
Dorrler, who was born and raised in the farm country of Hunterdon County, has been cooking for as long as he can remember. “Farms, produce and gardens have always been a part of my life,” he says. “Schaefer Farms was right next door to my house. I used to jump over the fence in my backyard to work there. I did everything from baling hay to picking strawberries. When I was in high school, I worked at a seafood market.”
He would have loved to make food his career, but being a practical person, he majored in accounting at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.
“Six months into my first job, I realized I didn’t want to wear a suit and carry a briefcase and make this my life,” he says. “So I walked into a restaurant in Branchburg and asked for a job. They laughed, but a year later, I was running the kitchen.”
Osteria Morini—“osteria” in Italian means a place where the owner hosts guests—is part of the Altamarea Group, which operates 20 restaurants worldwide. There are four Osteria Morini restaurants. Aside from the one in Bernardsville, there are locations in New York City, Long Island and Washington, D.C.
“Osteria Morini is a passion project for me,” Dorrler says. “It’s where my heart is.”
View the menu at OsteriaMorini.com.
Chef’s Notes: Making pizza at home is a fun family event. Pizza stones and backyard portable ovens make for more interesting cooking options, but keep in mind the difference in temperature when using an outside pizza oven as the pizza will cook very quickly. Pizza stones for indoor ovens are a plus and a pizza peel also would be helpful. You can use store-bought dough as well.
¾ c warm water
1 ½ tsp sugar
1 packet instant yeast
2 to 2 ⅓ c all-purpose flour
¾ tsp salt
2 tsp olive oil
Mix water, sugar and yeast in a bowl and let stand 5 minutes.
In a mixer with a dough hook, combine the water, sugar and yeast mix with flour and salt. Mix on medium speed while drizzling olive oil until the dough comes together, for about 8 to 10 minutes.
Alternatively: Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix till combined. Turn dough out onto floured surface and knead about 12 to 15 minutes.
Allow dough to rest a minimum of 10 minutes. This creates one 10 oz ball, which can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for 2 to 3 days or frozen for one month.
4 c whole peeled tomatoes
½ tsp salt
4 fresh basil leaves
Add all ingredients to blender and blend (pulse) completely or leave chunky.
Dough can be stored in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days or frozen for one month.
Stretch, Top and Cook Pizza
3 oz sweet sausage (remove casing)
5 oz shredded mozzarella
3 oz pizza sauce
3 oz sliced pepperoni
1 oz sliced red onion
Preheat oven to 375° F.
Flour work station. Pat and stretch dough onto pizza peel or sheet tray. First pinch quarter-sized pieces of sausage evenly onto dough, top with cheese (cover the entire pizza crust to crust), drizzle or spoon sauce evenly over pizza. Top with pepperoni and finish with red onion.
Pizza Stone: Preheat stone in oven. Place pizza directly on stone. Cook until lightly browned (20 to 25 minutes).
Baking Sheet: Place in oven, cook until lightly browned for 20 to 25 minutes. Take off sheet tray and place back in oven for 5 minutes to crisp the bottom.
You can also place the rough dough into oven for 1 to 2 minutes to set the crust, then remove, top with ingredients and return to the oven for 20 to 25 minutes until lightly browned.
Morini’s Non-Alcoholic Chai Cider
(add bourbon of choice, if desired)
2 oz chai
1.5 oz apple juice
1 oz honey/cinnamon syrup
0.5 oz lemon juice
Add all ingredients to a shaker. Shake. Strain over ice in a rocks glass. Garnish with a dehydrated apple or lemon.