This Italian Tavern Is Taking Classic Bites To the Next Level

by Peter Candia

A welcome trend within the food world is more and more restaurants sprouting up that merge the reliability of NJ pizza with the complexities of a full-service restaurant, complete with Italian-American staples and inventive dishes alike. Grano in Scotch Plains exemplifies this to a tee. So much so that, while the pizzeria side of the space is impressive, I find myself sitting down in the dining room for a full-service meal each and every time I end up there.

Grano proves that we don’t have to compromise. We can have it all. In fact, as New Jersey food obsessives, we deserve it. 

Chef Antonino “Nino” LoCascio | Grano

When you walk into Grano, you are met with vintage Italian liqueur ads plastered on the walls. An expansive bar with green, velvet-backed seats and a varied liquor shelf sits in your view. Beyond, a dining room flooded with natural light. On the other side of the restaurant is the pizzeria counter, which is exactly as you expect. Grano diners are given the choice—takeout pizza or sit down for a full meal. This choice brings more variety to the table. You could sit down for dinner at Grano on a Wednesday and pick up a pizza to go on Thursday without being bored. 

This duality is the product of Grano’s Chef and Owner, Antonino “Nino” LoCascio. It was always all about the restaurant industry for Nino, who opened his first spot at just 21 years old in New Brunswick. He ran the restaurant, called Nino’s for five years before selling it and moving on. His next decade-plus was spent cheffing it up in high-end kitchens across several country clubs and luxury hotels in New Jersey and New York. 

Seasoned ricotta board | Grano

While the work was good and the setting allowed for continued improvement, Nino always wanted to settle back into owning his own space. When Grano in Scotch Plains went on the market in 2022, he knew he had to have it. What followed was a total overhaul of the in-house recipes and a revamping of the bar program. Nino dreamt up an Italian tavern of sorts, and that is what he has turned Grano into. A place to eat, have a drink, hang out—you name it. 

As expected, the food is no joke. Diners revel in house favorites like the seasoned ricotta board. A mountain of olive-oil-grilled panella bread is served alongside a pot of warm, seasoned ricotta. Take the crusty bread and dunk it into the warm ricotta—it’s creamy, salty and fulfilling. When ricotta is properly seasoned, it can be eaten with a spoon. Grano achieves that (though we certainly aren’t complaining about the bread, either). 

The meatball salad | Grano

Salads are in no way an afterthought to Nino. The Grano salad staple, you ask? That would be the meatball salad—yes, meatball salad. A classic house salad with cold, crisp lettuce, onion, tomato, parm and a zippy vinaigrette is accompanied by a mound of steaming hot, marinara-bathed meatballs. The salad itself is classic, serving the exact purpose that a house salad should. It’s simple and bright. On the other hand, the meatballs juxtapose in a way that might initially sound odd, but makes total sense. It doesn’t hurt that Nino’s meatballs are excellent—well-flavored and maintaining their juiciness through the tomato braise. Together with the salad, it’s a fit. 

Garlic knots | Grano

Maybe you want to grab a side of garlic knots with marinara to dip, or a pizza for the table. The beauty of Grano is that the option is there. But, of course, we are here to talk about entrees, and something I think Grano does exceptionally well: pasta. 

There are plenty of great options to choose from, but you can’t go wrong with the Rigatoni Carbone, a nod to the famous Italian-American restaurant in Manhattan’s West Village. The dish brings a spicy and creamy tomato sauce with a bright orange, glossy color—think vodka sauce. Each morsel of al dente rigatoni gets evenly coated with the sauce, which is layered and contains a fair amount of heat from the addition of Calabrian chili. While many other restaurants might opt for a dried chili flake in their spicy vodka-esque sauces, I always prefer Calabrian chili as the heat is more leveled and the flavor is off-the-charts better. This pasta was balanced both in flavor and texture. A home run. 

Rigatoni Carbone | Grano

Grano entered a new era when Nino LoCascio took over back in 2022. It’s serving the same purpose it always has, but at a higher level. Part of the allure is that for Nino, these are just recipes he has been making his whole life. Whether it is the succulent meatballs with their cooling sidekick salad, or the chewy rigatoni slathered in a creamy, spicy tomato sauce, it’s all made with love, and that’s the difference. Lunch, dinner, take-out—whatever you choose—Grano has you covered. 

You can order Grano online here

Reservations can be made here

About the Author/s

All posts

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.

Related Articles

Leave a Comment

Yes, I would like to receive emails from The Digest Online. Sign me up!

By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: New Jersey Digest. You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact