One Of The Best Little Hidden Gems In Ocean County Can Be Found In A Mini Mall
I have known Chef Umberto Turelli for about 15 years. We were introduced by my friend Beverly who owns Jersey Shore Public Relations among other businesses. She’s taken me to a few of his restaurants in the past, and every meal he’s made for us was fantastic.
He’s either owned or been involved with quite a few restaurants over the last several decades, including Blaze Bistro in Toms River, Nuova Luna in downtown Toms River and the Oakhurst section of Ocean Township and Trattoria Portobello in Freehold and Seaside Heights, plus a few pizza restaurants in North Jersey.
I ran into Umberto for the first time in a few years at the Plaza Mini Mall in Holiday City, while picking up stamps for my husband at the post office.
I needed a cup of coffee after standing in a very long line at the post office so I stopped at the little café in the mini-mall and to my great surprise, the man who served me my cup of coffee was Umberto Torelli. He owns the place. It’s called “Sweet Zi’s Sweet Shop & Café.”
Chef Umberto also owns the restaurant across the way called “Zi Marie’s Original Pizzeria and Trattoria.” He has family on board to lend a hand in running the establishment. It was nice to meet his wife Carol, and his son Salvatore, who I now call “The Prince of Pizza.” Sal is a character. When Sal isn’t making pizza, he’s in the gym working on his physique as a bodybuilder. If any reality show casting directors are reading this, you need to meet Sal. This young Jersey guy was made for reality television.
Chef Umberto is an incredibly personable man who wants to feed everyone he meets.
Recently, he came across one of my reviews from another local restaurant on the WRAT website and noticed I was a huge fan of broccoli rabe and sausage. Umberto then rang me up to invite me to try the food at Zi Marie’s.
Since my husband works in the area, I decided this past Friday night was going to be the night for us to grab a bite at Zi Marie’s.
With Umberto, it’s never just a taste or a bite, it’s a meal fit for a hearty appetite.
Chef Umberto created a white pizza for us with sausage, sautéed broccoli rabe, fresh buffalo mozzarella, marinated roasted peppers, and ricotta on what he calls a clean crust.
He recently started using clean ingredients to make his pizza dough. The dough does not contain bromated flour. Bromated flour is used to increase the elasticity of the dough. This crust was very light, crunchy, and less doughy than any pizza I’ve eaten in the past. I usually leave the end of the crust when I eat a pizza slice because it’s heavy. but NOT this time!
We also had a plate of calamari that was seasoned perfectly and had a very light crispy coating. It was cooked just right, you can taste the tender calamari.
Then a big surprise came to the table. Chef Umberto made a sandwich that was inspired by my love of broccoli rabe and sausage.
The sandwich was filled with Umberto’s homemade hot and sweet Italian sausage patties, sautéed broccoli rabe, marinated roasted peppers, blistered cherry tomatoes, caramelized Vidalia onions, Italian Salsa Verde, and fresh mozzarella on a nice piece of Italian bread.
Umberto has dubbed the sandwich, “The Rockyn Robyn.” He’s made sandwiches named for other folks too. Actor Lou Martini Jr. who you may know as Anthony Infante on The Sopranos, and comedian Paul Venier have their own sandwich, as do a few other folks.
Next time you head down Mule Road in the Toms River/Berkely Township area, make a right onto Plaza Drive and as the road bends, you’ll see the mini-mall. Stop into Zi Marie’s and order one of these fine sandwiches or the delectable pizza pie choices. Frankly anything Umberto and his crew cook up will be a meal to remember.
Zi Marie’s Original Pizzeria Trattoria
730 Jamaica Blvd #25, Toms River, NJ 08757