La Tavola owners bring family recipes to the table


Since its opening in 2010, La Tavola Cucina has served meals that bring people together.

The Italian restaurant and bar — whose name means “the kitchen table” — first featured a menu composed of dishes shared by owners Steve and Jill Sullivan before they were married. Although the lineup of unique Italian food evolves with the changing seasons, the eatery’s commitment to fine cuisine, service and time spent with loved ones remains.

“If you want to get in and out quickly, that’s not a problem,” said Jill Sullivan, who runs the front of the house. “But if you want to take your time, we’ll make sure you can take your time and get the service that I expect people to get when they come in here.”

La Tavola Cucina humbly sits in a shopping center at 700 Old Bridge Turnpike, South River, near Route 18. Its relaxed dining room offers customers a chance to reconnect over fresh takes on classic meals, like the perfectly cooked fried calamari dressed in a rich imperial sauce or the creamy farfalle pasta covered in a light garlic sauce with sausage and pan-roasted broccoli. The bar offers patrons a chance to relax with a martini and a stock of affordable snacks, like chicken parmesan or meatball sliders.

Chef Steve Sullivan and his experienced kitchen team often aim to break the chains of tradition that define many Italian restaurants, he said.

“We didn’t want to do just traditional Italian, because every pizzeria does that,” he said. “Yeah, we have veal parmesan and chicken parmesan, but we wanted to do some things that aren’t so common.”

La Tavola Cucina’s roots stem from the Sullivans’ Italian backgrounds. Both sides of their family boast a catalogue of time-honored recipes that often make their way to customers’ plates, Jill Sullivan said.

“Both of our grandmothers have recipes for sauces. They’re very different,” she said. “He does the cooking, so we use his family’s sauce.”

Steve Sullivan, who hails from Baltimore, spent summers with his grandparents on the Chesapeake Bay. He said he developed a love for crabmeat, which claimed a stake on La Tavola Cucina’s menu, as well.

No matter the dish, the Sullivans always ensure its quality at a decent price, they said.

“We wanted to be very reasonable, and we didn’t want to kill people,” Steve Sullivan said. “We want people to come in to experience the whole thing, like they come in to get a cocktail and they get bread, an appetizer, soup or salad, an entrée and a dessert.”

For thirstier diners, the bar offers half-price deals on food and cheap drinks during happy hour, which runs 4:30-7 p.m. throughout the week. Take the Blood Orangetini — a mix of blood-orange vodka, triple sec, fresh lime juice, sour mix and cranberry juice — which tastes sweet and goes down effortlessly.

And the bar crowd — a group of friendly folks who shared laughs and appetizers on a recent Thursday evening — makes La Tavola Cucina all the more welcoming.

“People will walk in here who don’t know us and it’s like everybody is a part of the group,” said one woman who was happy to point a newcomer to the hottest menu items.

That sense of community is a boon for the restaurant, which harbors its fair share of regulars, according to the owners. Private banquets, painting parties, wine dinners and live music have also helped the Sullivans navigate the difficult economic times, they said.

Jill Sullivan, a member of the civicminded Rafano family of Middlesex County, said her local roots have also drawn a crowd.

“But once they come in here, we get them to stay and come back, and that’s not always an easy thing to do,” she said.

La Tavola Cucina is closed on Mondays. For more information, call 732-238-2111 or visit