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Chef Vola's

Old Bridge, New...
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807 posts
109 reviews
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Chef Vola's

My husband has heard really good things about this very small restaraunt. HAs anyone here been there? I know it's very difficult to get in, but we may look into it on a future trip.

New Jersey
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1. Re: Chef Vola's

Chef Vola is an experience. Part of the fun is getting the reservation

Here is my review of the FIRST time I went there

“Treated like family”

Reviewed October 6, 2010

10 people found this review helpful

I had suggested this restaurant to my wife and some friends.

I had heard about it for years.

"Chef Vola" was this mysterious, 85 year old restaurant, where diners were seated in a crowded basement. It had no signage, an unlisted number and never advertised. Reservations were hard to come by. The phone was never answered, it was either left off the hook or you encountered an answering machine which required leaving a message. New diners had to be recommended by a regular and reservations had to be made months in advance.

The payoff for all this was supposed to be the best meal in Atlantic City or all New Jersey, for that matter.

It was with this in mind that on a hot August day, I decided to attempt to make a future reservation for six people.

I was anxious as I obtained the the unlisted telephone number. (Now widely available on the Internet)

I had heard that callers were sometimes questioned about how they heard of the place and who recommended them. In the event that I encountered this, I was armed with the name of a very well known Las Vegas host that regularly referred his clients, that were visiting AC. He is a friend's father an gave me permission to mention his name.

I hesitantly dialed the telephone and encountered a busy signal. I tried few time that day with the same result.

Over the next few days I tried and got the busy signal.

At this point this was becoming a challenge and I was not about to give up. After calling umpteenth times the telephone was finally ringing, as I waited for it to be answered the anticipation grew.... I was finally going to speak to someone in the restaurant. Unfortunately, my hopes were dashed when the telephone call connected to an answering machine. As I waited for my turn to leave a message I practiced what I was going to say. I was imagining the call would be screened by someone akin to the "Seinfeld - Soup Nazi". If I was not clear and concise I would undoubtedly have my message deleted. After leaving the message, without a hitch, I felt I was making progress.

Either later that day or the next day, my cell phone rang and the caller ID said "Chef Vola". Uh Oh, the big moment was here. I answered the telephone half expecting to be told never to call there again. However, It was a pleasant sounding guy saying he was from Chef Vola asking if I had called for a reservation. He asked if I was ever there before. I admitted I was not but friends had been there and raved about the place. With out any further questioning he asked when I was interested in visiting. Trying not to sound too eager, I provided the date and time I desired. The date was good but the time was not, we would have to sit down very late. I did not want to eat so late so I gave an alternate day. I chose Sunday October 3 at 530. This was good for him. I knew that the member of my party were flexible with the date so I booked it.

Next I made a reservation for a room at the Borgata Water Club. This was I did not have to drive back home that evening. The other two couples in my group also made reservations to stay over.

When Oct 3 arrived we spent the day in the casino with varying degrees of success. As the designated reservation time arrived we all jumped in my SUV and drove over to a small block behind The Tropicana. As I drove down the street I saw a group of four people walking with what appeared to be wine in a paper bag. They entered a non-descript door on an old white house.

I figured that must be the place. I recalled reading that parking was tight but I found a spot directly across from the restaurant. The sign allowed three hour parking for non-residents so I figured I was okay. As we exited the car a 20 something guy pulled up. He parked half on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant. He exited with one of those large brown bread bags. He looked over and said, "That is Chef Vola employee parking only". I was perplexed and began looking around, he then smiled wildly and started laughing. "I'm just kidding you", he said. He said his name was Josh. He was a waiter and had just picked up the bread for the night from Formica.

We entered into a small vestibule with a low ceiling, that could hold maybe six people. There were photos of celebrity diners such as Frankie Valli, Beyonce, Terrry Bradshaw, Lance Armstrong. We were met by "Lou". He welcomed us and showed us to a table just inside the door. The restaurant had just opened. There were a few tables occupied. Josh was our waiter he came and brought the menus. Lou returned a short time later he explained he owned the restaurant with his family. He asked if this was our first visit and how we heard of the place. He then explained that his dad did the cooking with another Chef and his mom made the desserts. He then excused himself to attend to guests that were arriving.

I looked around and it was indeed a circa 1970 basement. Low ceiling and low light with eclectic combination of pictured on the walls, The tables are very close together.

Within ten minutes every table was full.

Fresh Italian bread and garlic bread was placed on the table. This is a "Bring your own" restaurant, so they opened our wine and placed the white on ice.

Josh came over and began to recite the menu from his head and the specials. He said they were famous for their house salad which is served family style in a large wooden bowl.

We decided to have our appetizers "family style". We chose two salads; the house salad which is iceberg, with olives onions, provolone tomato etc., and an arugula salad with walnuts and feta with a raspberry dressing. We also chose crab cakes. These are two large crab cakes. They were very good, and some of the best I ever had.

The following entrees were ordered:

For an entree I chose Chilean Sea Bass in what I recall was described as a champagne sauce. I like Chilean Sea Bass and I order it often in restaurants, This Champaign sauce was sweet, and was a different accompaniment to fish then I am accustomed to. Although I was different it did not disappoint, it was EXCELLENT. It was definitely the best preparation of Chilean Sea Bass that I ever had. I highly recommend it.

My wife chose the signature dish, Veal Chop Parmagina on the bone. This is a large veal chip pounded thin and fried with a crispy crust then prepared parmigiana. I have to note my wife is notorious for sending her food back if she is even slightly unhappy with it. In this case she was delighted. She loved it.

My friend said he had not had Chicken Parmagina in a long time and he was going to order that. I replied that he was crazy he could get that in any Pizzeria in NYC where he lived and worked. Lou overheard this and came over. He told me that although Chicken Parmagina was available most anyplace. It was not his Chicken Parmagina. He said it was a big seller and people loved it. Needless to say my friend ordered it. He was very happy with his choice.

His wife ordered Pecan Encrusted Salmon. This was a huge piece of fresh salmon with a magnificent dry rub type topping. I tried a piece it was great. She loved it.

My brother-in-law law loved his lamb chops. My sister-in-law surprisingly ordered a steak. This was a shock because on our last visit to the "Old Homestead" She hated her steak, sent it back and did not order another one. Here she loved the steak.

The entrees are all ala carte so we had a family style linguine with white clams sauce that had plenty of large chunks of chopped clams. (Note: I have read in some on-line reviews that people bashed the clam sauce. I did not see what they were complaining about. It was very good and in my opinion exactly what a linguine in clam sauce should be

We also has spinach sauteed with whole pieces of roasted garlic. This was very well prepared. Not too soggy, not undercooked.

My researched advised us to save room for dessert. They are all homemade by Lou's mom. Josh the waiter, recited about 20 desserts. We shared the Crème Brule Pie, Tiramisu, Frozen Banana Pie and Tartuffo. The Crème Brule Pie and the Banana Pie were the standout selections. The Tiramisu and Tartuffo, were good but ordinary.

The thing that I have to stress about Chef Vola is even though the food is very, very good. I recommend going for the experience also. The reservation process may be a turn-off for some, but to me it was a challenge. The restaurant is in no way upscale or even visually appealing but the 1970's decor gives it a certain charm. Most notable was the way Lou and his staff made us feel. It was like he was our long lost cousins. He came over and chatted. He asked about us and gave us the history of the his family and the restaurant. Everyone left the restaurant wanting to go back again.

A few notes:

Although I am sure they are welcome, I do not think this is a place for kids. The tables are very close, kids would be restless in such cramped quarters.

Appetizers: The salads were good but they were salads. I am not a big salad person. When I go back I would definitely chose something different. I recall something about buffalo mozzarella, I think with tomato and prosciutto, I would try that. I do not recall clams oreganato, which is a favorite of mine, being on the menu, if they were I would try them. The Crab Cakes are a must order.

My Brother-in-law has been to, the famously hard to get into, Harlem restaurant, "Rao's" numerous times. He said Chef Vola reminded him of Rao's, in many ways. It has the same walk down to a basement and the old décor, but what was most similar was the way the management and staff makes you feel at home and welcome.

The tables are extremely close, so be warned there is no chance that you can converse without the people next to you hearing your conversation. But everyone seemed engrossed in their own conversation and they probably do not care eavesdrop on you. To explain how tight it was if the person sitting at the far corner of our table wanted to get up, two of us and the three of the four people at the next table would have to get up to let her out.

Keep in mind the servings are rather large. Many people will not finish their entree. I was aware of this before I went. Knowing I was staying in AC overnight. I placed a cooler with ice in the car. We placed the leftovers in the cooler over night. (I hate to waste food) The next day they were good as new. (An added benefit is the white wine was stored in the cooler on the way to AC)

As for getting a reservation Lou said the crazy time is, of course, the summer. Now that the summer is over it is much easier to get a reservation.

He said if a person called in the evening they have the best chance of speaking to a live person. It is my opinion that November to, I guess, about February/March must be their slow time so you can probably get in pretty easily.

I heard that Billy Crystal and some friends arrived one night without a reservation. They had to be turned away because the place was full. So if you plan to go during the busy season I suggest planning well in advance.

It is Bring Your Own alcoholic beverage place, so if you would like to imbibe plan ahead.

The dress is casual; most men were in “Dockers” type pants. There was one table with men in suits but I think they were either coming or going to another event.

Bathroom: There is only one. It is unisex. It is spotlessly clean. However, be warned, … you have to go into the side of the kitchen to access it. I looked at this as part of the charm of the place.

There is a parking lot on the corner.

Final note, as I said earlier, this is not an upscale restaurant by any means. It is what “foodies” call a “Red Sauce” restaurant. Meaning there are no exotic nouveau dishes with quail eggs and oyster foam. I call this old school Italian with a modern sensibility.

Naples, Florida
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763 posts
58 reviews
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2. Re: Chef Vola's

I've been three times now. I'm glad I went and tried it out a few times. Really good food. It's a nice little experience no doubt. However, I am over it and don't need to go back. Now I'm kind of indifferent. Go check it out, you won't be disappointed.

pa
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3,301 posts
13 reviews
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3. Re: Chef Vola's

Its just Okay.

Cafe 2825 the place!

nyc
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24 posts
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4. Re: Chef Vola's

I agree it's just okay. The first time my wife and myself went we really enjoyed the place. The 2nd and 3rd time were no big deal. With all the choices in Atlantic City, I don't think well be back again.

pennsylvania
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750 posts
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5. Re: Chef Vola's

Thanks for the input.. a friend of mine was there last winter ... her friends just told her they were bringing her somewhere special for her "B" day.. She enjoyed it. but of course she could not answer any of the questions i had. She said food was delicious but i would love to know the exact location and number so i can get reservations and also how pricey is it? We are heading down to AC the weekend before xmas and i was thinking maybe, just maybe we could get in. I'm Hoping... thanks

6. Re: Chef Vola's

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