Earlier this year, Vesuvio—a beloved neighborhood Italian joint in Elizabeth, NJ—mysteriously burned down. The restaurant, which was owned by Chef Arthur “Artie” Bucco, was the meeting place for families, friends and important business. Overnight, it was reduced to ashes—leaving only memories of what once was.
Fans of the no-frills joint were heartbroken, but Bucco—known by many as the Prince of Rogaine— was determined to get up and back to cooking immediately. Construction began and Vesuvio reopened as Nuovo Vesuvio. As a fan of the original Vesuvio, I knew I had to give it a try.
One of the biggest draws of the former was its humble build. Vesuvio was home-like, its dim lighting and cigarette-smoke-filled air were comforting to many. You really felt as if you were in Bucco’s home at Vesuvio. “Three generations of Buccos sweated over that stove,” Bucco told me.
Nuovo Vesuvio, however, is more sophisticated. Its luxurious decor, complete with Italian paintings and hardwood floors, must have cost a pretty penny. Thank God for fire insurance. But the question remained: Will the food and service match the new luxe space?
The new spot is more fit to show off Bucco’s culinary chops, featuring white tablecloths, tie-sporting waiters and a bar stocked with everything from Montepulciano to Ramazzotti Amaro.
I scanned the menu for only a minute before Bucco—donning a new diamond stud earring that he claimed to have for years but doesn’t wear all the time—promptly came over and snatched it out of my hand. “I have a special menu planned,” he told me “I got peppers been marinating for 15 years!” Then, he vanished into the kitchen and began preparing for my first course.
Within minutes, Bucco returned with the newly added burrata, imported that morning, in fact. As it hit the table, all I could think to myself was: “Mozzarella and string beans?”
“It’s more subtle and smooth,” Bucco explained. Mozzarella with “an almost nut-like flavor.” His description couldn’t have been more far off if he tried, but still, it was qu’est-ce que c’est, very good. The creamy burrata marries with the crispness of the fresh beans, which are both cut by the sharpness of an aged balsamico. “It’s all about the contrast,” he told me before showering my plate (and hair) in black pepper. Like many starters from the old days of Vesuvio, it is balanced and well-executed.
Then, the cavalry arrived. The Cannelloni was an almost cylindrical rendition of your classic lasagna. This is where Bucco shines. Tubular pasta is stuffed with whipped ricotta, dollops of red sauce and bechamel are laden atop, while the whole thing gets baked. The bechamel and tomato lightly caramelize—marrying into one—while the ricotta filling remains silky and defined. The monumental portion was too much for me to finish and I still had food to come, but before wrapping, Bucco made sure I knew one thing: “It has bechamel on it, so a few hours out of the fridge max, okay?” Understood, Chef.
With an ear-to-ear smile on his face, Bucco swept through the dining room with my entree in hand. He triumphantly placed it before me and exclaimed: “Quail Alla Bucco! Baby quail stuffed with fennel sausage.” I was taken aback.
I thought to myself, “Didn’t I see this guy in the park this morning taking a shit on a statue?” But I digress—no sense worrying as Bucco has proven to be a more-than-capable chef.
“Hey, broaden your horizons.” Bucco gestured. I should trust his risk-taking—in fact, I should be honored to be the patron who gets to sample it for myself.
The quail had a golden brown, crisp skin and an overwhelming aroma of roasted poultry, with a tinge of fennel and herbs from the sausage. Underneath the infantile bird—which I was still wrapping my head around—was a bed of escarole, or as Bucco loves to call it along with his mysteriously well-dressed, assumingly connected friends: “‘scarole!”
Though the oddly minuscule bird was a tad intimidating, it was rather delicious, albeit dry. Bucco treated the protein—as he does every ingredient at Nuovo Vesuvio—with the utmost care it deserved.
My meal was coming to a close, but not before some Armagnac from the hot new brand: Domaine Vezelay, poured in an almost forceful manner by Chef Bucco himself. “It’s the next vodka,” he told me as he gave me no time to decline the offer. Before I knew it, Bucco refilled my snifter and took a seat next to me. Another pour of Vezelay by Vesuvio’s sexy French hostess, then another and another. Next thing you know, Bucco was practically pitching the product to me: “This stuff is sweeping Europe…” he shouted,“it’s gonna be bigger than Stoli, Goose—who ever heard of Goose before? It’s French vodka!” I could only assume he had an investment in the matter. I understand he has a daughter who needs braces, but I ain’t buying.
Then, he snapped his fingers and told the hostess to get me a Martina. “It’s like a martini, but it’s from Albania,” he said. “I heard they go down easy.”
As he rang me up on his new, high-tech POS system, his eyes lit up. “We lead the world in computerized data collection!” he shouted. I still have no fucking clue what he meant, but I celebrated right along with him.
The meal was nothing short of extraordinary, and Bucco’s dedication to making me feel like family did not go unnoticed. I walked out with my to-go box of cannelloni and a parting gift from Bucco: more Domaine Vezelay.
Nuovo Vesuvio is no doubt back and dare I say better than ever. Bucco should be thanking God for that fire as it allowed him to take the next step in his culinary career. His cooking is familiar and delicious while still breaking out and taking risks when applicable. The drinks and service match the fare and the classic design along with the hostess are quite easy on the eyes. All qualities that allow you to slip into another dimension. One filled with wise guys, Italian-American dishes and plenty of good booze. If it’s not already, Nuovo Vesuvio should be on your radar—Artie Bucco is a warm and convivial host with the skills to put on a show-stopping meal.
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Burrata from Lioni Mozzarella
Quail from Palmer’s Quality Meats
Fennel Sausage from Palmer’s Quality Meats
Tomatoes from Sclafani Foods
Photography by Emma Garibian
Video by Will Rittweger
Food by Peter Candia
About the Author/s
Peter Candia is the Food + Drink Editor at New Jersey Digest. A graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, Peter found a passion for food 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. He never stops learning and he's always in the weeds.
Hysterical. You made me laugh several times. Your unmentioned, but clear reference to (as we used to call him), “Louie the torch” was even funnier. You’re a very entertaining writer, Pete. This from a retired English teacher.
I thought Vesuvio was in Lyndhurst not Elizabeth.
I never ate at the old place but I may try this new and improved Vesuvio Restaurant. Like the description of all the dishes and drinks. Your writing is too funny along with the owner Chef Arthur “Artie” Bucco. After Lent is over I may try the Vézelay.
Do you have an address for this restaurant?