AFTER TWO DECADES POLISHING HIS SKILLS IN PROMINENT GLOBAL CULINARY DESTINATIONS, FROM MANHATTAN AND SAN FRANCISCO TO ITALY, THIS NJ CHEF IS TREATING HIS GARDEN STATE NEIGHBORS TO CREATIVE ADAPTATIONS OF ITALIANS CLASSICS AT THIS DUAL-LOCATION EATERY
BY BLUE SULLIVAN • PHOTOS BY ALEX BARRETO
When asked to share his philosophy behind what makes a dish sing, Richard Corbo, a celebrated local chef with more than 20 years of kitchen experience in his tool belt, leaned poetic.
“I could write a novel,” said Corbo, who cut his teeth in distinguished restaurants throughout New York City, San Francisco, and Italy before returning to New Jersey to open Corbo & Sons. “In short, it’s about choosing locally, seasonally aware ingredients, and allowing the ingredient to shine, restraining the chef’s tendency to do too much. This philosophy was imparted mostly from my time in Italy and SF, where what you eat is growing right in front of you in everyday life, and the beauty that comes with that is the deterrent to over manipulate.”
Corbo & Sons was first indoctrinated into the New Jersey restaurant scene in 2018, when Corbo opened the Bell Market location, set in the buzzy Bell Works mega-complex in Holmdel. The Italian craft kitchen features a bright, airy space with an open kitchen, glossy countertop seating, wooden communal dining tables, and a pair of pizza ovens for sizzling what would soon become locally famous pies after the restaurant’s launch. Though it’s anchored in quick-style service, its dishes are thoughtful, a testament to the owner’s love for the craft.
The eatery proved to be a smashing success, and Corbo soon began conceptualizing a second location, one with a classic sit-down dining experience. In 2022, Corbo & Sons Osteria, tucked behind a cozy red brick facade with crisp white doors, opened in Shrewsbury.
“I’ve been in the restaurant business since I was a young boy,” Corbo said. “It’s all I’ve ever done, and really the only professional endeavor I’ve ever been inspired to pursue. With Corbo & Sons in particular, I was inspired to bring my modern take on the classic NJ Italian restaurant to Shrewsbury, something that came from my experiences cooking in Italy, NYC, and SF for the last 20 years.”
The Osteria (in Italy, the traditional osteria is a small, cozy haunt that serves wine along with fresh, simple dishes) features an expanded menu, building upon the Holmdel locale’s selection of bubbling pizzas, salads, and meatballs and adding house made pastas, fresh seafood, steaks, chops, and more. Corbo’s vision was to bring to New Jersey authentic Italian plates that are a bit lighter than the classic style.
“We are committed to being a part of an improved local food system that enriches people’s lives and health,” he said. “You’re eating healthier, local, more natural foods when you dine with us, even when you’re having pasta or pizza. Our pastas are freshly made from local, small production flours; our pizza is made with a high-extraction flour which has a higher nutritional value and lower glycemic impact than more mainstream and processed flours.”
When sourcing ingredients, Corbo pulls from his years of experience in the business.
“I’ve sourced food for big operations like Tribeca Grill and the Standard Bar & Grill,” Corbo said. “During this time, I learned that you cannot commit to one farm, one vendor, or one ideology because food is seasonal, perishable, and organic. What was good last season may not be next. We use organic when it makes sense, we buy local whenever possible, and we do everything we can to impart a seasonal awareness in a market that has become spoiled by the reality of our global food supply chain.”
Appetizers span crispy arancini stuffed with truffle-scented sottocenere, sage, and parmigiano; grilled octopus accompanied by Yukon potato salad, salsa verde, and crispy shallots; and fried calamari served with lemon aioli and house pomodoro. There’s also a fan-favorite meatball plate, one of the chef’s personal favorites.
“I love our meatballs, a recipe that has evolved over a 20-year career as a chef,” said Corbo. “I think they’re pretty unique. If I shared the recipe and our no-fry method, any Italian grandma would scowl, but the reality is they’re lighter, softer, and healthier than your version, and no heartburn. Sorry grandma [laughs].”
Pastas are made from scratch and can be topped with a dollop of burrata, chicken, or shrimp. Stalwarts include rigatoni vodka peppered with shallots and rosemary; ravioli packed with roasted cherry tomatoes, ricotta, and mascarpone; and a crowd-favorite Bolognese, featuring pappardelle pasta smothered in a house-recipe veal, pork, and beef ragu and finished with pancetta and béchamel. Heavier appetites are treated to a selection of meat and fish dishes, including a juicy USDA prime 14-oz New York strip abetted by crispy salt baked potatoes and garlicky spinach.
In addition to his loyalty to benchmark food, Corbo is equally committed to providing a healthy and supportive environment for his employees.
“Quality of the work environment and what we give back to our staff is an equal priority,” he explained. “My wife and I grew up in restaurants that treated their employees poorly and harbored poor or even hostile work environments, so with our restaurants now, we make a concerted effort to ensure our employees have all that they need to be happy and thriving in the workplace.”
For Corbo, balancing the numerous challenges that befall any restaurateur is a demanding but rewarding daily dance. When asked to note the most challenging aspect of running a thriving restaurant, the owner is circumspect but insightful.
“Running a restaurant can be like coaching a team, trying to get 15 people to be their best at the same moment,” he said. “It requires a lot of you, but when it works, it’s quite rewarding.”
Corbo & Sons
555 Shrewsbury Avenue, Shrewsbury /
101 Crawford’s Corner Road, Holmdel 732.704.3289 /