"The boot, of course, is Italy, and the tip is not really in a charming little restaurant in North Haledon, just its Sicilian flavors and feelings. Bring your own wine, unwrap your cutlery from its unique ceramic flowered ring, and fantasize that you really are in sunny Italy.
It's not difficult to pretend at Tip of the Boot, for the main dining room, lovingly decorated by Mama Barbara, is full of personal photos, plates, plants, fans and lacey demi-curtains. In effect, it's the living room of a nice Italian family in the Old Country, with just nine intimate tables, and you're invited, for lunch, dinner or a party, and you are treated like you're honored guests, invited for the weekend.
Ron, the 20-something scion of the family and head chef, plies his aromatic trade behind a room divider, really a refrigerated case in disguise, containing all the luscious cakes Mama Barbara bakes every night. Waitress and baker by night, court administrator in Wayne by day, Barbara has even been known to scrub a floor when the spirit moves her. Talk about Sicilian Mothers!
You can't see him, but the real force behind this unusual restaurant is Joseph Seminerio, who died in January, just a few months after Tip of The Boot opened. Ron told us he senses his grandfather's presence with every stir of his spoon, for Joe founded Wayne's first restaurant, The Lighthouse, in 1956. "Every dish I make, I ask myself if Grandpa would like it, and I make sure it's up to his standards," Ron said.
But enough of friendly ghosts. Let's eat. The bread is piping hot and crusty. The salads be they Caesar, Tri-Colore, Mom's Summer Salad, or Greek, are impeccably fresh and huge enough to share.
Pasta Fagioli, in a bread bowl, was delicious, as was the appetizer, fried calamari which can't be bested, delicately battered, still retaining its baby shape. My friend Don loved the Portobello mushrooms, stuffed with four cheeses, in an intense sauce. We also noshed the black and green olives in a little dish, designed to keep you busy while your main dishes are made to order, as is all their food.
Choosing from among the regular menu temptations -- a delectable array of pastas, veal, chicken, steaks and pork dishes -- and the equally provocative nightly specials, is mind boggling. Perhaps the Black Squid Ink Linguini with monkfish, broccoli and sundried tomatoes, in a pink cognac sauce. Or how about Ron's Southwest Fire Chicken, in an adobe sauce over saffron rice, the chicken showered with chipatle peppers, carrots, celery and onion. But wait -- we must try the Ossi Buchi alla Giardineira, braised veal shank over roasted corn polenta.
We selected our entrees from the regular menu so that if you wish to try them, they would always be available to you. I chose a Veal Voldostana stuffed with prosciutto and mozzarella in a light mushroom sauce. Ron's version was a class act, especially the dark sauce, more assertive than its Southern Italy counterparts. There is nothing dainty about Ron's cooking. He gives it his all.
My friend Don's choice, Chicken Napoletana, colorful in its frizzle of red and green peppers, potatoes and onions, is an Italian melange of flavors. "That was some good dish." he enthused.
Desserts. Ah. Mom Barbara could open her own bakery. We danced around the Tiramisu cake, the Oreo cheesecake, the carrot cake, sampling here and there, and offered Barbara a permanent home at our house, near the oven.
Tip of the Boot also makes gourmet pizzas. Their two pizza chefs are busy night and day, creating such specials as Pizza Strudels, Neopolitan Pizza, Paella Pizza -- the list goes on.
They also have a sandwich menu full of such originals as the "Scarpone" - (fresh mozzarella, prosciutto, sundried tomatoes and arugula) -- and a full lunch menu, with $6.95 specials that include pasta, salad and beverage. And let's not neglect their Early Birds, Monday thru Friday from 4 to 6, with a choice of five entrees, soup or salad, pasta, dessert and beverage.
One of the nice things about Tip of the Boot is the intimacy. Everyone talks to everyone else. Our next-table neighbors were a judge and his wife from North Haledon. "The Tip of the Boot is this area's best-kept secret," he said. "We come here often. There are always different specials. Last week we had hummus over pita, this week baked prawns with feta cheese. And you never leave hungry."
In nice weather, you can dine outdoors, at two umbrella-covered tables on the patio. And, of course, catering, both off and on premises, is very much a feature of Tip of the Boot.
Grandpa Joe would be happy with what Ron and his mother have accomplished here, You will be, too."