by Michael Vyskocil, photography by Kelly Heck
Piles of pillow-like gnocchi await their accents of cherry tomatoes and mozzarella. Grilled artichokes and chicken glisten atop artisan flatbread as a fresh Piadino sandwich takes shape on a plate. An oven door opens, and a peel enters to retrieve a Napolitano pizza with a bubbling cheese topping.
From the kitchen of Cafe La Cucina, these dishes and many more like them grace the tables of those who gather from Hanover and beyond for tastes of casual Italian cuisine. As he makes his way around the cafe, owner and Chef Armando Malvone stops to chat and check in with his guests. No matter the day of the week, at Cafe La Cucina, the atmosphere feels like a family dinner every day, and Malvone wouldn’t have it any other way.
Tucked inside Eisenhower Shopping Village off Eisenhower Drive, Cafe La Cucina is the latest iteration of Malvone’s beloved Italian restaurant concept that has served Hanover for more than 15 years. The new cafe, he said, can seat up to 50 people and features favorites that generations of La Cucina customers have loved, along with some new everyday bites with prices that are lighter on the pocket.
“People are looking for freshness, quality and something that they can feel good about when they feed their families,” he said. Family Meals for 5, for example, offer generous portions of appetizers such as bruschetta and fried zucchini, entrees such as penne sausage and peppers and classic spaghetti and meatballs, and a host of chicken entrees ranging from chicken piccata to chicken parmigiana.
Freshness is an imperative for Malvone, and he’s particular about the quality of the ingredients that go into every dish.
“We are adamantly against using any foods treated with chemicals or MSGs,” he said. “We try to use local produce as much as possible. We can also serve gluten-free dishes and vegan dishes.”
The cafe, he said, gives him the opportunity to build specials packed with fresh flavor. The Salmon Pescatore brings together wild-caught North Atlantic salmon with jumbo shrimp, fresh-cut tomatoes, clams and scallops served over spaghetti in a white wine pomodoro. The Seafood Fettuccine is another lively combination of seafood and pasta on a plate. It boasts a medley of mussels, clams, scallops and jumbo shrimp served over fettuccine with a brandy blush cream sauce.
He said his food heritage comes from his parents, Rosa and Jerry Malvone. His father (who died last year) grew up outside Naples, Italy, and worked in pizza shops in Brooklyn, N.Y., for many years. After his parents moved to Hanover in 1973, his father worked at Scotto’s Pizza and eventually purchased the business with his brother-in-law Sal Coppola. During the 1980s, they renamed the business Jerry & Sal’s Pizza. The Malvone family continues to operate Jerry & Sal’s Pizza inside North Hanover Mall.
“When I graduated from college, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do,” Malvone said. “I had a career doing some work internationally, but I resigned from that after two years and came back to the family business. My passion is food, and I’ve been fortunate enough to pay the bills with that passion.
In May 2001, Malvone opened La Cucina, which gave the Hanover community fresh Italian favorites served in an inviting atmosphere. Despite the restaurant’s four relocations over the last 15 years, his loyal customers followed him from place to place as he moved about Hanover.
Malvone credits not only his parents for support, but also his sons Angelo and Marcello, and his wife, Christina. “She’s the backbone and the marketing genius,” he acknowledged.
Support also comes in the form of the Cafe La Cucina team members who assist him with off-premises catering. Each year, he caters corporate, individual, weddings and house parties for up to 30 people. Additionally, he’s also catered scores of school events for Hanover-area schools over the decades, all while bringing his signature dishes from La Cucina and an unflagging commitment to customer service wherever he goes.
The longevity of his family’s businesses in Hanover, he said, is a testament to the loyalty Hanover shows its business community. “That’s been proven for over 43 years with two businesses,” he added. “When my dad passed away, we were overwhelmed with condolences from this community.
“For any business, retaining customers isn’t easy, and it’s especially difficult during moves like ours when you’re off the grid for a while,” he said. “I thank all of our customers who have been so loyal to us and have followed us every time we’ve moved. That’s not something we take for granted. We focus on relationships because they’re important. We want to make sure people are being treated right and that they get good quality food. To me, hospitality is important; it makes people feel welcome.”