You may have seen the names on menus: Valley Shepherd cheeses, Garden State Stout and Pat LaFrieda meats. What makes these sources so sought after by the area's best chefs? We wanted to find out. This summer, Corner Table highlights some of the big names in locally produced food and beverages, visiting the places they're made and getting to know the people who make them.
Once upon a time, Star Ravioli had just three: cheese, meat and spinach.
Now there's broccoli rabe and sausage, chicken and prosciutto, even chorizo. There's whole wheat and gluten-free.
But the principles of the third-generation Moonachie company remain the same. "We don't cut corners," says Michael Piretra, who oversees the kitchen. "We're old-school ravioli. We make it the same way my grandfather made it."
Extra-fine flour ensures that the ravioli cooks quickly and doesn't become doughy. Eggs are cracked by hand. Ricotta is freshly made nearby at Ridgefield-based Biazzo, and many of the meats — like braised short ribs or the chicken from Wyckoff's Goffle Road Poultry Farm — could hold up as a restaurant entrée before they're ground and stuffed into ravioli.
Chris D'Eletto, the chef-owner of Jack's Café in Westwood and The Grille in Mahwah, says Star consistently delivers ravioli with high-quality filling. "Their broccoli rabe and sausage ravioli, if you cut into the middle of it, you see chunks of broccoli rabe and chunks of sausage. That means a lot when you're trying it as a special."
My first experience with Star wasn't exactly positive. When I reviewed Jack's Café in 2008, I was turned off by the amount of bread crumbs in the lobster ravioli.
Shortly after the review appeared, I got an e-mail from Eileen Pisani, Piretra's sister and fellow vice president, telling me they had completely reworked the ravioli in response to my concerns, adding more lobster (along with scallops and crawfish), eliminating the bread crumbs and throwing in just a bit of crispy panko crumbs.
I was impressed, not only with the finished product (which I later ran across at another restaurant) but also with how seriously the company takes its ravioli. So was D'Eletto: "I thought that was just great service."
You may have bought Star Ravioli, even if you don't know it: Many companies simply buy ravioli from Star and sell it under their own name. What's more, some pretend they make it themselves — "I could think of seven off the top of my head that would shoot me" if outed, Piretra says.
Practice makes perfect
Star Ravioli started in 1946 as a small storefront in Union City opened by Laurence Eugene Piretra. His sons later joined him, with Larry Jr. taking over as president. When the company moved to its current site in Moonachie in 1964, it quickly became a much bigger operation, selling to grocery stores, other ravioli companies and restaurants.
The company initially focused on selling in supermarkets, but soon found that they were demanding prices that made it impossible to keep up the quality. So Star decided to focus on smaller markets and restaurants.
One is Gianna's in Carlstadt, which always offers the meat, cheese and lobster ravioli, and has run others — like the chorizo — as specials. "Even if we just need a case, he'll come flying around the block," Gianna's owner Paula Graziano said of Larry Piretra Jr., who still serves as president of Star. "Everything is always fresh, always delicious. I can't imagine using anybody else for ravioli."
Michael Piretra, a graduate of the Culinary Arts Institute in Jersey City who is in his 26th year at the family company, is constantly experimenting, looking for the next big thing in ravioli. It took him a year to perfect the gluten-free ravioli, now made with a mixture of corn and rice flours. He's done special orders for restaurants like goat cheese, or peaches and cream.
He conceived the short rib ravioli after enjoying braised short ribs at a restaurant — his are made with a slow-cooked mixture of browned, boneless short ribs with tomatoes, red wine, carrots, onions and celery. "If you saw this you'd think, wow, this is going on a plate?" Piretra said. "No, it's going in the ravioli."
E-mail feedback to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you include your name, town and phone number, your thoughts may be included in future columns. Blog: northjersey.com/foodblog Twitter: elisaung
Where to find Star Ravioli
- Bellissimo, Montvale
- Big Red Tomato, Fort Lee
- Don Pomodoro, Hackensack
- Gianna’s, Carlstadt
- GoodFella’s, Garfield
- Jack’s Café, Westwood
- Masina Trattoria Italiana, Weehawken
- Sanducci’s, River Edge
Markets and delis:
- Bartolomeo, Englewood (store brand)
- Corrado’s, Wayne and Clifton
- Dante’s, River Edge (gluten-free only)
- Goffle Road Poultry Farm, Wyckoff
- Green Farm Market, Lyndhurst
- IGA market, Ridgefield Park
- Italian Riviera, Waldwick (store brand)
- Jerry’s Gourmet, Englewood (offers gluten-free)
- Market Basket, Franklin Lakes
- Natoli’s, Secaucus
- Piccolo’s Gastronomia, Ridgefield
- R&F Deli, East Rutherford
- R&S Village Market, Little Ferry
- Rosario and Frank’s Italian Deli, East Rutherford
- Tenafly Gourmet Farm Market, Tenafly (reopening soon)
- Visentini Bros., Lodi
- Viva Roma, Ridgefield Park