Boschetto Does Fast-Casual Dining Right With Seasonal Ingredients and Authentic Technique

by Peter Candia
Boschetto Montclair

Fast-casual is dominating the dining landscape today. We see this style of restaurant becoming more popular each year—from 2022 to 2023, the fast-casual market more than doubled in value, according to a report released by Allied Market Research late last year. Whether it is because diners increasingly want faster, more casual service, or if it’s a leftover trait of pandemic dining that has become entrenched in daily life doesn’t really matter. What matters is this: fast-casual is here to stay.

In The Garden State, there are plenty of fast-casual restaurants to go around. However, one category that seems to be lacking is pasta—even in a state as pasta-obsessed as New Jersey is. However, in Montclair, there is a restaurant that perfectly balances the speed and accessibility of fast-casual with the quality and virtue of traditional dining. Montclair’s Boschetto serves top-notch pasta, pizza, sandwiches and more in a relaxed setting. It’s perfect to sit down for a meal with a bottle of wine or to pick up for dinner on the couch. Boschetto is malleable, and that’s why diners can’t get enough.

fast casual italian NJ

Boschetto – Montclair, NJ

The concept is spearheaded by partners Rob Spina and Ryan Held. Spina has operated restaurants across the globe—literally. His talents have brought him to the likes of Hong Kong, Singapore and others. So, how did he end up back in his home state of New Jersey? If you ask him, the right place, right time. “I saw this space hit the market and said to myself, ‘It’s got a patio, parking… Yeah, I need it,’” he tells me. Over time, Boschetto came to be, and by August 2023, it was alive and thriving.

Boschetto is perched on the corner of Grove and Walnut Street, surrounded by a neighborhood that has boomed with dining options in the last decade. When you walk inside, there’s no host to greet you, or any reservation system to check into. Instead, you walk up to the counter, peruse the menu and simply order. You are given a number and told to sit where you please. 

Boschetto Montclair

The specials board at Boschetto, teeming with seasonal offerings

Minutes later, the food arrives with sporadic pacing. This is a feature, not a bug. Boschetto sends food out as it’s ready—no heat lamps, no pasta dying in the window, and definitely no cold pizzas. 

Bucatini Amatriciana might hit the table first—a quintessential pasta of Rome, or Amatrice to be more specific. Thick, chewy noodles are sauced in a vibrant tomato sauce flavored by pepper and rendered guanciale, a cured bacon-like meat made from pork jowl. Guanciale is paramount to the cuisine of Rome and is seen in many staple dishes.

The key to a good Amatriciana, in my opinion is allowing the tomato sauce to retain its vibrancy. That means no long cooks—it isn’t a Sunday gravy. You render the guanciale, add the tomato and allow it to just barely cook before tossing it with the pasta and a heaping portion of finely grated Pecorino Romano (sheep’s milk cheese). What you get is a dish that is fatty and bright, defined by crispy bits of guanciale dispersed throughout the sauce. I’ve had it many times, and I’ve cooked it just as much, and Boschetto’s is up to par with some of the best.

amatriciana in NJ

Bucatini all’Amatriciana from Boschetto in Montclair, NJ

While you’re slurping down tomato-coated noodles, the next dishes arrive. With Boschetto’s current menu that might look something like a Spring Pea Carbonara and Mussels Fra Diavola.

The mussels come steaming in a spicy tomato broth, complemented by plenty of thin-sliced garlic, white wine and of course, Calabrian chili. Beware: they’re addicting. Each mussel pools with the broth, coating the plump meat as you bite it from the shell. A piece of fresh-baked pizza bread—a staple at Boschetto—comes on the side for all of your dipping needs.

Mussels piled high with spicy tomato broth

The corkscrew-shaped fusilli with spring pea Carbonara is equally as impressive. A perfectly emulsified sauce with lots of the aforementioned guanciale and rich black pepper. For Spring, the Rome classic is taken up a notch with fresh spring peas and pea shoots—which burst with Spring flavor. Many times during the season in Italy. You’ll see Carbonara done with fresh fava beans, but with plenty of farm-fresh peas available in the NJ area right now, Boschetto takes the hyper-local route. Commendable and delicious.

Spring Pea Carbonara

Sandwiches are in abundance at Boschetto, too. Roast pork with broccoli rabe, mortadella and stracciatella, or my choice, good ol’ chicken parm. Each option comes with a side cup of Giardiniera (spicy pickled vegetable mix). Boschetto is authentic, but not detached from their Jersey roots, and I celebrate it. What makes the sandwiches—AKA paunozzi—at Boschetto so good is the fresh-baked pizza bread. Each sandwich gets a loaf baked off to order. Because it uses pizza dough, it allows for a quicker bake time. It kills two birds with one stone: deliciously fresh bread, and the ability to crank it out fast. The chicken parm is stupidly simple. Crispy chicken cutlet, tomato sauce and mozzarella—baked off and stuffed into the bread. What’s not to like?

Chicken Parm on pizza bread. Simple.

Boschetto might seem like it’s all about the pasta (and it is), but you’d be remiss to overlook the pizza. Seriously, I was utterly impressed with their offering. Pizzas at Boschetto come around 14-inches on a deliciously airy and structured dough. “The key is a low hydration and a long ferment,” Spina said to me as I sat there examining the interior of the crust. We opted for the Carne Rossa pizza, which comes loaded with crispy pepperoni, sausage, meatballs and chili. As an added bonus, any pizza at Boschetto can be ordered as a calzone. Not a bad feature if you ask me.

Beyond pizza, pasta and sandwiches is a menu rife with traditional entrees. Breaded and fried pork chops served with bright side salads, seafood-spiked risottos and flame-grilled Bistecca served with punchy salsa verde, rosemary and lemon. Steakhouse quality with the speed expected at Boschetto. That’s what it means to be fast-casual. 

Pizza loaded with pepperoni, sausage and meatballs

For dessert, enjoy creamy gelato in a variety of flavors like chocolate, pistachio, hazelnut and vanilla, or go for the fan-favorite Panzarotti Nocciola—a calzone-like treat stuffed with banana and gooey Nutella.

Boschetto is one of my favorite restaurants to visit in a dining-happy Montclair. The allure is the concept—great food, done fast. I have become obsessed with the seasonal specialties, the pizza, pastas—all of it. Perhaps my favorite part of the operation is the authenticity. Name me another restaurant where I can get a proper, piping-hot bowl of Bucatini Amatriciana or Rigatoni Alla Gricia in ten minutes.  

As fast–casual restaurants become increasingly available, the market will undoubtedly be flooded with dull options. But the style is not all dreary. Boschetto is the blueprint; now, let’s see if others follow suit.  

About the Author/s

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Peter Candia is the Food + Drink Editor at New Jersey Digest. A graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, Peter found a passion for writing midway through school and never looked back. He is a former line cook, server and bartender at top-rated restaurants in the tri-state area. In addition to food, Peter enjoys politics, music, sports and anything New Jersey.

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