1 of 8
The "Jersey" Tomato Pie with mozzarella, provolone, fontina and parmesan cheeses topped by a layer of tomato sauce (Photo by Stephanie Breijo)
2 of 8
The seafood salad with shrimp, clams, cucumber, snap peas, Calabrian chili aïoli, chives and radish (Photo by Stephanie Breijo)
3 of 8
The Pain Killer cocktail with Koloa coconut rum, Smith & Cross rum, pineapple, orange, banana and nutmeg (Photo by Stephanie Breijo)
4 of 8
Chef de Cuisine Matthew Robinett (left) with chef and restaurateur Mike Isabella (Photo by Stephanie Breijo)
5 of 8
Veal Parmesan atop house-made spaghetti (Photo by Stephanie Breijo)
6 of 8
Oyster "Rockafeller" with spinach, bacon, Strega and fonduta (Photo by Stephanie Breijo)
7 of 8
Skate Piccata with lemon, capers, toasted almonds and broccoli rabe (Photo by Stephanie Breijo)
8 of 8
Available on the regular menu, the zeppole with Ariberry Farm-berry jam calls to mind brown bags of the fried dough on the beach. (Photo by Stephanie Breijo)
Sure, we've got Texas Beach, but beginning today, the Jersey Shore hits Richmond. From July 21 through the end of the month, Mike Isabella's Graffiato restaurant is serving up a slice of the boardwalk with beachy dishes from Isabella's home state — and that includes a full beverage menu of fruity and/or boozy and/or slushy drinks to set the summertime scene.
"We've got a lot of cool cocktails, a lot of interpretations," Isabella says. "Matt [Robinett], who's the chef here, is going to have some interpretations on the table and I am too, and we just have fun with it."
Replete with Italian-American classics and nods to iconic fried coastal fare, Jersey Shore Week launched last year at the former "Top Chef" contestant's D.C. Graffiato location and recently returned, and now comes to Richmond with a menu of pizza and small plates that range from $9 to $15. At any given time, the offerings at Richmond's location are about 25 to 40 percent different from its D.C. counterpart, and this limited-run menu is no exception. We have a few unique dishes including skate piccata with capers, lemon, toasted almonds and broccoli rabe ($15); a "Jersey" tomato pie — inspired by the Trenton tomato pie, wherein the pizza is built with the cheese on the bottom, sauce on top — from the mind of chef de cuisine Robinett (and set at $12); and veal parmesan atop house-cut spaghetti ($15), a childhood favorite of Isabella's.
"Every Friday night was sub and pizza night at my house," he says, "so every Friday night I got a veal cutlet parmesan; the hero was my thing. It's good to have it on [the menu]. You don't see it often."
You can also enjoy the Seafood Salad — a spin on the classic scungilli (or conch) salad — made with shrimp, clams, cucumber, snap peas, chives, radish, a Calabrian chili aïoli and house-extruded pasta ($14); the Graffiato Boardwalk Fries, a pile of thick-cut Idaho potatoes, pancetta chili and mozzarella ($9); the Oysters "Rockafeller," which fall somewhere between oysters Rockefeller and clams casino preparations and arrive filled with spinach, bacon, Strega and fonduta ($14); and the Linguine & Clams, a classic that here comes topped with littleneck clams, chili, parsley and white wine.
Jersey Shore Week cocktails, all $13 and designed by beverage director Taha Ismail, include the Pain Killer — which comes complete in neon-pink fishbowl — with its coconut rum, Smith & Cross rum, pineapple, orange, banana and nutmeg; the Passion Fruit Margarita with Olmeca Altos Reposado Tequila, dry Curaçao, passion fruit and lime; and the Watermelon Slushy with Reyka vodka, watermelon, lime, mint and black pepper agave. For $6, you can grab one of two shooters: the classic Lemon Drop (with Reyka vodka, Cointreau and lemon) or the Blue Hawaiian (with Don Q light rum, Blue Curaçao, coconut cream and pineapple).
Of course Isabella sticks close to his roots, and that means you can find a few Shore staples always on the menu. Take, for instance, the Jersey Shore pizza with fried calamari, tomatoes, provolone and a cherry pepper aïoli ($16) or the zeppole with blackberry jam ($6) — a riff on Isabella's childhood.
"The zeppole means the most to me," he says. "I grew up in Little Ferry, lived across the street from a park with a lake and everything and a bunch of baseball fields, and every summer there was the fair, like a carnival, and they'd have the big vats of friers. They'd be dropping the dough in there and frying them and scooping them out, putting 'em in a bag with tons of powdered sugar you'd get all over yourself. So you've gotta have zeppoles."
Find a taste of the Jersey Shore at Richmond's Graffiato, 123 W. Broad St., from July 21 through July 31.