How delicious are Teresa DeSanctis' ravioli?
Let's just say that Jersey Shore restaurants often don't bother to make their own.
If you're dining out in Cape May County these days and you're served an unusually supple, unusually large square of pasta stuffed with cheese, spinach, meat or lobster, chances are it came from the kitchens of the Ravioli House, Di-Sanctis' restaurant and takeout shop on East Bennett Avenue in Wildwood.
The wholesale arm of DeSanctis' business supplies about 50 restaurants in the Wildwoods and beyond, including upper-crusty shore towns like Avalon, Cape May and Stone Harbor.
More tellingly, DeSanctis' ravioli are so delicious that weekenders at the Shore pack them on ice to take back home to South Philly, a coals-to-Newcastle situation if ever there were one.
Then there are DeSanctis' lovingly made Italian pastries: sponge cakes, sfogliatelle, cannolli, biscotti and other traditional specialties.
Which may be even better than the ravioli. (She doesn't wholesale the sweets, so the Ravioli House is the only place to score some.)
Top-shelf ingredients like semolina and durum- wheat flour are one of the secrets to DeSanctis' exceptionally fine-textured pasta and pastries. Her personal touch is another. Even though she employs a pastry chef and a roster of line cooks, the 67-year-old Italian-born baker mixes every batch of dough herself.
DeSanctis delegates some of the finish work of rolling out the ravioli and shaping and filling the pastries. But for extra-precious baked goods, like pignoli cookies, she insists on doing all the work herself. "With them, I don't trust anybody - it's too expensive to have them ruin it."
She's been suiting up in a flour-dusted apron at this location for 38 years.
DeSanctis learned to bake cookies at her mother's elbow and was initiated into the mysteries of Italian sponge cake by her mother-in-law. The rest is self-taught. "I went to Italy a few times, picked up a few things," she says modestly.
In 2006, the Food Network featured her in a show honoring the best of America's pasta places. (You can catch it in reruns.) But the star turn hasn't gone to her head.
Most days, she personally opens the doors to the Ravioli House takeout shop at 9 a.m. She keeps them open until 11 p.m. - critical on Sundays so customers can pack their coolers for the return trip to Philly. "After we close," she says, "they're still at the door." *