In Asbury Park, Diners Flock to Flavia’s Cucina for Home-Style Cooking From Rome

by Peter Candia
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In Asbury Park, NJ, there is one restaurant that does the flavors and culinary traditions of Roman cuisine justice. Flavia’s Cucina is run by Andrea and Kevin Matthews, a husband-and-wife duo. The couple envisioned Flavia’s as an homage to Andrea’s mother, Flavia Paterno. Rooted in the cherished recipes of Flavia’s Roman upbringing, the restaurant embodies a legacy of authentic Roman cuisine passed down through generations. 

This means carciofi fritti (AKA crispy, fried artichokes), orange and fennel salads, grilled lamb chops, and, of course, plenty of pasta to go around—from the Roman classic spaghetti carbonara to gnocchi with gorgonzola and walnuts and everything in between. 

Bold flavors make up the cuisine of Rome and it often shifts with the seasons. You might see delicately fried zucchini flowers in the summer and rich, oxtail stews in the wintertime. But, no matter the time or the ingredients, Roman cooking is all about love. Just like its namesake, Flavia’s Cucina invites everyone to the table, serving food cooked from the heart.

The Outdoor Patio | Flavia’s Cucina

Flavia’s Cucina: It’s About Family Traditions

Before entering the restaurant industry, Andrea and Kevin both worked in fashion, doing sales and development in footwear. The transition to the culinary scene came from a deep-rooted passion for all things food, coupled with a deep reverence for familial tradition. Andrea grew up eating her mother’s cooking, so it just made sense to go into the food that she loved and knew. Along with Kevin, the couple got to work—Flavia’s Cucina came together. 

When you walk inside Flavia’s you are met with a sleek dining room defined by an open kitchen concept—wrapped around it is a chef’s counter, so you can have a true front-row seat to the action if that’s your style. The interior is equally romantic and functional, showing off the best in restaurant design.

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Wrap-Around Chef’s Bar | Flavia’s Cucina

Flavia’s has a unique structure in the kitchen. As opposed to the traditional hierarchy seen in kitchens, where a chef leads a team of sous chefs and line cooks, Flavia’s embraces a collaborative ethos. The entire team learns and cooks the dishes that Flavia has in her arsenal. For Andrea, this makes the restaurant feel like a true family, which was always the goal. 

“This approach fosters an authentic family feeling,” Andrea tells me. “Both personally and professionally, ensuring that every dish is crafted with the same love and care that Flavia put into her cooking.”

This means that the menu is always booming with traditional mainstays and seasonal specialties alike. For starters, revel in a mix of authentic and innovative antipasti. I’m of the opinion that you cannot enjoy a Roman meal without indulging in some type of artichoke—or, carciofi as it’s natively called. 

Carciofi Fritti brings crisp-fried artichokes with a punchy lemon vinaigrette. Often seen in the osterias that line the streets of Lazio, fried artichokes are an addictingly good finger food. The crackly outside combined with the tender interior is the perfect way to start a meal. 

Carciofi Fritti | Flavia’s Cucina

Another starter you might want to try is the polpette—tender beef-and-pork meatballs, braised in a bright pomodoro and served over creamy polenta. This is home cooking at its finest. Or, take the fiori di zucca—battered and fried zucchini flowers stuffed with mozzarella and Parmigiano Reggiano. 

Salads are big in Rome, and the same goes for at Flavia’s. Whether it’s a crunchy fennel salad with vibrant oranges and briny mixed olives or a complex arugula salad with cherry tomatoes, roasted red peppers and pesto, adding something fresh and bright to the meal is never a bad idea. 

Central to Flavia’s is the pasta. Pillowy house-made gnocchi, toothsome rigatoni, tagliatelle and spaghetti. The menu works in a sort of “choose-your-own” style where you can first decide what shape or type of pasta you want, and then pick one of the many sauces that goes along with it. Gnocchi comes a variety of ways. Gnocchi Sorrentina comes with fresh mozzarella, tomato and basil. It’s bright and herbaceous with an added richness from the milky cheese. Or, you can go for a gnocchi that is a tad richer—the Gnocchi Tartufo, which takes the delicate potato gnocchi and bathes it in an earthy truffle cream.

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Bright Spinach Salad | Flavia’s Cucina

Then, there are the other pasta shapes. Diners enjoy rigatoni alla Amatriciana—a tomato and guanciale-based sauce from nearby Amatrice in Lazio. The sauce is traditionally spiked with a healthy dose of pepper, onion and Pecorino, making for a dish that is salty, unctuous, funky and booming with tomato flavor. 

“Pasta is central to Rome and the same goes for Flavia’s,” Andrea tells me. “My whole life has revolved around pasta. I grew up eating it every day.” 

Guests also enjoy classics like tagliatelle with slow-cooked beef and pork ragu, or spaghetti cacio e pepe—the simplest of the Roman pasta tree, made up of just Pecorino Romano and loads of black pepper.

Beyond pasta is a list of entrees including crispy chicken milanesa and platters stacked high with flame-grilled ribeyes and seafood. Flavia’s Cucina also features a family-style menu where diners can order large portions of pastas and other items to be shared amongst many. If you ask Andrea, it’s the way to get the true Flavia’s experience: “It mirrors how we enjoy meals at home. Picture one large bowl of pasta or gnocchi that everyone can share or pick from,” she says.

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Spaghetti Carbonara | Flavia’s Cucina

An array of desserts are the perfect way to cap a meal at Flavia’s. Layered tiramisu, ricotta and pistachio cake, fresh-filled cannoli and rich affogato are just a few of the dessert options to choose from.

Beyond food, Flavia’s is a BYO, allowing guests to bring their own wine and beer as they see fit. For guests who forget a bottle or want to try something new, Flavia’s operates as a salesroom for Belleview Wines—a winery based in Landisville, NJ. Their bottles are available to purchase directly at the restaurant. 

At its core, Flavia’s is a family restaurant, serving family recipes. It’s this home-style cooking that Flavia Paterno brought Andrea up on that is central to the restaurant’s success. Andrea knew better than anyone that her mother’s cooking was the exact thing that the growing Asbury Park dining scene could use. It’s a community that is constantly seeing new restaurants sprout up and at the center is Flavia’s Cucina—a restaurant committed to bringing authentic Roman cuisine to the Jersey Shore.

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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