Search for our FACEBOOK page "Johnny's Italian Grill of Lake Hopatcong" and Chef Johnny's profile.
Johnny's opened in May 2007 and since then he has been crafting traditional and wonderful dishes, product of his own experience growing up in a big Napolitan and Sicilian family that has an amazing cook: Mama Visicaro. The restaurant is being run and managed by John and Johanna Visicaro.
by Lise Greene Correspondent
They met on the beach over a fresh lobster he had just caught, and he’s still cooking fresh food for her – and for anyone who dines at the new Johnny’s Italian Grill at 120 Brady Road in Lake Hopatcong (near the bridge).
Back in 2003, John Visicaro was diving for lobsters on Venezuela’s Margarita Island. Up he came with a bagful. In accordance with island custom, he handed one to a local youngster to grill right there on the beach. Sitting nearby on the sand was a young Venezuelan woman who watched the proceedings with interest. He invited her to join him for the fresh meal, and it was love at first bite.
Johanna was teaching in a college chemistry lab in Venezuela. When she and John married in 2004, they settled in Lake Hopatcong. She is now a chemist at Benjamin Moore. John continued his business as a general contractor/builder, but being an entrepreneurial spirit, he was restless to try something new … something with food.
The Visicaros dreamed of a meet-and-eat establishment that would combine quality dining with casual community entertainment. When the former JP’s Restaurant was for sale last year, they bought the building and John put his construction skills to work.
The exterior has been meticulously refaced in stone. There’s an outdoor seating area next to a babbling brook with a view of Lake Hopatcong.
The interior features an intimate old-style Italian design. The walls are limestone on the bottom with natural cedar paneling above. The floor has travertine tiles and the ceiling sports a large decorative tile. An artistic artificial fireplace makes a cozy setting against one wall, watched over by a stylized sun. Forty-six comfortable burgundy-padded chairs are arranged around beautiful tables. Big windows overlook the lake and music plays in the background.
On the mantel, over the windows, and on the walls are South American crafts. The most intriguing are handmade Venezuelan casas. The little three-sided houses are made of pottery, wood, and fabric, with the style reflecting their region of origin. The casas at Johnny’s Italian Grill are particular to Johanna’s home state, Lara.
All television sports channels are available and there’s wireless Internet access. Customers are invited to bring their own wine, and Visicaro envisions wine and cheese tasting events to which patrons will bring their favorites to share with everyone in attendance. The restaurant can be reserved in advance for club meetings or private parties.
Visicaro designed the space and did the construction work himself with a craftsman’s care. He also personally selects the freshest ingredients for every dish, and each one is cooked to order. As proof of the high quality of the food, he showed this reporter several enormous imported cheeses that are grated by hand, fresh vegetables, meats, calamari, and a container of homemade chicken stock.
The kitchen has an open design that permits customers to see how the food is being prepared. Chef Adan, who honed his culinary arts under the tutelage of some of the finest chefs in the Northeast, constantly works with Visicaro to fine-tune new dishes. One diner raved over the pork ribs, with a secret house sauce and meat so tender it fell off the bone. Visicaro borrowed from his mama’s home cooking to develop delicious Italian dishes such as sautéed chicken breast sorrentina with spinach, prosciutto, and mozzarella cheese served with focaccia bread. He even borrows mama herself to make the meatballs, and she’ll be contributing additional recipes. “Look out for mama’s specials like stuffed whole calamari over pasta in red sauce, stuffed artichoke, and fresh rolled braciole,” said Visicaro.
There are other chicken specialties as well as seafood, pasta, pizza, and more. New items will be introduced as specials before being added to the menu. Desserts include traditional cheesecake and ice cream. Appetizers start at $6.25, entrees at $12.95, and desserts at $3.50. An 16-inch pizza is $12.95. John Visicaro masterminded the new eating establishment. “But Johanna was the driving force behind the project,” he said. She supported his dream and, since the restaurant’s opening last week, has been right there with him in the kitchen – transferring her skills as paint chemist by day to food chemist by night.
Taken from: Lise Greene, IN THE NEWS, AIM of Jefferson, June 1st 2007.