Written for MyCentralJersey.com on 6/28/17
If you sample the traditional Neapolitan-style Italian fare prepared by Joseph Gramaglia, head chef of Saly G’s Restaurant and Tavern, you’re bound to guess he has spent years in a culinary institute, training with top chefs and mentors.
And you wouldn’t be 100 percent wrong. Gramaglia, who is also the owner of the elegant Italian eatery at 169 Washington Valley Road in Warren tucked behind a strip mall, has been studying for years — alongside his mother and grandmother as he pored over cookbooks and cooking television.
“I read cookbooks seven days a week. I watch cooking shows every day of the week,” Gramaglia said. “I taught myself how to do this. I didn’t go to school for this — it’s straight passion.”
It’s certainly passion and tradition that drives everything that is prepared at Saly G’s — at the restaurant, which opened in 2010 and recently underwent a name change from Saly G’s Mountaintop Grill to its current title, everything is homemade, including the sauce, which has been in the Gramaglia family for 80 years.
“Our prices aren’t cheap, but our quality is the best and you will never leave hungry,” Gramaglia said of the eatery, which is named after Gramaglia’s father, Salvatore.
Gramaglia said that he only brings in top-quality grass-fed steaks and chops, and he proud of his restaurant’s commitment to dishes that “are the same as what I was raised on and then taken to the next level.”
Some of these most-loved dishes on the Saly G’s menu, which range from $19 to $48, include the truffle gnocchi with sweet onions, brown butter sauce and toasted breadcrumbs; garganelli with prosciutto, peas, porcini mushrooms, brandy cream sauce and white truffle oil; a 12-ounce meatball with pork, beef and veal with pignoli nuts and raisins; Saly G’s shrimp with spicy marinara sauce and parmigiana and the various steaks, including the 48-ounce tomahawk steak for two in which Gramaglia personally comes to the customer’s table and slices it.
However, Saly G’s hasn’t always been filled with hungry locals on the hunt for real Italian cuisine. When it first opened as the Mountaintop Grill in 2010, the then-American bar and grill wasn’t what those who knew the Gramaglia family best thought the new restaurant would be all about.
“People know and love us for our A&G Italian Fine Foods Delis, located throughout New Jersey, so they were disappointed with the then-Mountaintop Grill and it just wasn’t working for us,” Gramaglia said. “So, in 2012, we parted ways with the chef and I went from front-of-the-house manager to being the head chef. We went back to what we know best — elegant Italian cooking.”
These days, Saly G’s brings in about 750 to 1,000 people per week to its two dining areas and 50-seat bar area, in which Gramaglia said he makes sure that “everyone feels like family.”
A new outdoor dining area can now also be found at Saly G’s, and live music plays there every Friday night. Plus, the restaurant offers happy hour Monday through Friday and hosts wine tastings throughout the year.
“I’m always engaging with the customers,” he said. “I never say no if someone wants something that’s not on the menu if I can make it happen. If I’m in the dining room, I go up to every single table.”
Despite the sophisticated ambiance that exists inside Saly G’s, Gramaglia said that when many people pull up to the restaurant for the first time, they’re distraught at its location behind a strip mall — but they love it once they give it a chance.
“We’re such a hidden gem,” he said. “They say, ‘Oh, they’re in the back of a shopping center? But then they come inside and see that the food is exceptional and the restaurant is beautiful.”
Saly G’s Restaurant and Tavern
Where: 169 Washington Valley Road, Warren
Cost Range: $19 to $48 for an entree