Nikki’s at the Ben-Mar makes meals like mom did, according to owner and Executive Chef Dominic Zazzera.
The Zazzera family has served Italian-American cuisine to its community for decades. Marino Sr. and Benedetta Zazzera opened the Ben-Mar, 89 N. Main St., Carbondale, in 1963. In 2015, the couple passed down the business to their son, Dominic, who now runs it with his son, “Little Nikki” Zazzera.
Chef’s Table recently chatted with Dominic Zazzera about his start in the restaurant business and the Ben-Mar’s future plans.
Q: What is the history of the restaurant?
A: The original structure was built in 1927 and was used by D&H Canal Co. as a Penn Division office headquarters until 1960. Marino and Benedetta Zazzera bought the building and opened the Ben-Mar restaurant in 1963. I worked with my father at the Ben-Mar since I was 10 years old, working my way up the prep lines (and) eventually opening a restaurant (the former Little Nikki’s Pasta House). In 2015, my son, “Little Nikki,” and I took over the business, renaming it Nikki’s at the Ben-Mar, making it a proud second- and third-generation family-owned restaurant.
Q: What kind of food do you serve?
A: We serve authentic, homemade Italian and American-style cuisine made with fresh ingredients and recipes that were passed down through generations. We know how important specialty diets are nowadays, so we decided to add several vegetarian options, as well as gluten-free options, all marked on our menu.
Q: What are your most-ordered menu items?
A: We probably sell the most of Parmesan, Marsala, Calabrese, Crab Cakes — these are the most-ordered dishes because these are Italian dishes people know and love. Our patrons know they will get a delicious home-cooked meal “like mom used to make.”
Q: How did your menu come to be?
A: The menu is a result of 40-plus years of culinary experience coupled with old Zazzera family recipes that form a unique and delicious menu.
Q: How would you describe the restaurant’s atmosphere?
A: Because the building itself and our restaurant both have a long history, we decided to embrace that with a warm, vintage-style atmosphere.
Q: What type of seating do you offer?
A: We have booth, traditional table seating and bar seating (when available).
Q: What kinds of promotions do you offer?
A: We offer daily specials (example: feed five for $50 — choose one half-pan entree, a half-pan of salad or a quart of soup and dinner rolls), a frequent diner program and an early-bird menu.
Q: Do you offer catering, event space, etc.?
A: We do have an on-premise catering area which seats up to 55 people. However, because of the current restaurant restrictions, we have not been able to use it for larger gatherings. Instead, we have been focusing on off-premise catering (pickup, delivery and banquets). Printed catering menus featuring a great selection of half-pan entrees, appetizers, salads and soups are available at our restaurant and on our website.
Q: Are you offering delivery, takeout or curbside pickup?
A: Yes, we are open for dine-in, delivery, pickup and curbside pickup.
Q: Where do you see the restaurant headed?
A: In the future, we see our restaurant continuing to grow and evolve while continuing to provide our community with delicious, homemade meals at an affordable price. We plan to emphasize building our takeout business because that has been our lifeline throughout this pandemic.
Laura Rysz is the features copy editor and calendar editor at The Times-Tribune and runs the Talk of the Times column, which focuses on local fundraisers and other events. She also writes Chef’s Table that profiles restaurants around the region. Additionally, Laura curates events online on AccessNEPA.com. Laura is involved in the special Mother’s Day edition and curates occasional features Marry Memories and Times Travelers. She is a graduate of Haddonfield Memorial High School, New Jersey, and earned an English professional writing degree with a minor in mass communications from King’s College, Wilkes-Barre. She also earned a certificate in Social Media Marketing from Rutgers Business School. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9100 x5228.