La Pergola


By Dane Feldman

Photo by Dane Feldman.

La Pergola is a Northern Italian restaurant located on Essex St in Millburn, New Jersey. I could have sworn I reviewed this place already, but apparently I have not. My family and I have been dining at La Pergola for the last couple of years and I can safely say that it is among the top Italian places in this area of New Jersey, which is quite difficult to do considering New Jersey has a massive Italian population.

The food
What drew me initially to La Pergola is the fact that it is a self-proclaimed Northern Italian restaurant. The term “red sauce Italian” basically means the opposite of Northern Italian food. Northern Italian is all about farm to table and fresh meats, seafood, and vegetables. Each dinner starts off with a complementary plate of fresh bruschetta in addition to a warm basket of bread.

La Pergola’s menu still features popular Italian items like gnocchi, linguini, and eggplant rollatini, but the gnocchi comes with braised beef short ribs, heirloom apples, and baby root vegetable sauce (a favorite of mine at this restaurant), and the linguini is actually black ink linguini served with shrimp fra diavolo sauce and fresh herbs.

During my most recent trip to La Pergola, I had the braised short ribs special, which was served with roasted potatoes, asparagus, and braising jus. The meat was so tender it quite literally came clean off of the bone.

The restaurant has also been serving deliciously tender grilled calamari this summer as part of the seasonal specials menu. It has been an opinion of mine for quite some time that more restaurants should be serving grilled calamari either instead of, or in addition to, fried calamari. Grilled calamari is healthier and it is also more versatile. La Pergola’s grilled calamari comes on a bed of arugula with raw onion, tomatoes, and Tuscan beans topped with a balsamic vinaigrette dressing.

The drinks
As with so many of the other restaurants I frequent in my area of New Jersey, La Pergola is a BYOB establishment. The restaurant does offer an assortment of coffee, sparkling water, and soft drinks.

The service/ambience
The wait staff at La Pergola is knowledgeable, extremely attentive, and personable. Everyone appears to be classically trained and they will even bring out fresh wine glasses for your second bottle without being asked. Of course, that’s as it should be (even if the two bottles are of the same type, if they aren’t identical bottles, each wine needs a new glass), but La Pergola is amongst a fairly small handful of restaurants to actually follow through on this expectation.

La Pergola is a beautiful space with big, arch windows at the front of the restaurant and beautiful lighting inside. The restaurant draws an older crowd because of its classical service and fancier setting, but it isn’t pretentious or uncomfortable. Rather, dining at La Pergola is a relaxing and delightful experience that I enjoy more with each time I go.