I have a confession to make.

I belong to a Facebook group devoted to chicken parmigiana, and I asked to join.

And one restaurant in New Jersey was getting so much attention, I had to take a trip to try it out.

The dish is my go-to order whenever I'm at an Italian restaurant, so I figured I'd see whether I'm missing out on some amazing version somewhere.

I imagined the Facebook page would be pretty quiet activity-wise, and that I'd just scroll back through a handful of posts from the past year or so.

Posts from the Jersey Chicken Parm Ratings page on Facebook
Posts from the Jersey Chicken Parm Ratings page on Facebook

But I was wrong. Ever since joining, the page has been getting several brand-new posts per day from chicken parm aficionados here in New Jersey and beyond. The members take their mission seriously — order the dish, take a photo of it, and (most of the time) give it a rating.

In fact, there's so much activity you're bound to find at least one review for any spot in the state that serves the dish — the group has its own search function, so it's easy to find a review from a specific spot. It's not only Italian restaurants that get graded; you can also find ratings for taverns and diners.

Similar to Dave Portnoy's reviews of pizzerias, members of the Jersey Chicken Parm Ratings group grade the dish on a scale from 0 to 10.

Portnoy nearly never awards a "10" to any pizza slice. But on the Jersey Chicken Parm Ratings page, which has more than 17,000 members, folks are more generous.

And there's one spot in New Jersey that may be the holy grail of chicken parmigiana.

Spano's Ristorante Italiano (Dino Flammia, Townsquare Media NJ)
Spano's Ristorante Italiano, Point Pleasant Beach (Dino Flammia, Townsquare Media NJ)

Upon joining the page, I quickly learned that self-proclaimed parm experts consider Spano's Ristorante Italiano in Point Pleasant Beach to be the gold standard for the dish. Some on the page say the rating system is simple — it's either Spano's, or it's not.

I am a frequent visitor to the shore town but I had never heard of Spano's. After about two weeks of seeing post after post praising the place, I had to try it.

The small restaurant on Arnold Avenue operates on reservations only. I called them up and booked a table for a Sunday evening and brought along my wife and two kids for my "work project."

This was a first for me: traveling to a restaurant specifically for a dish that was receiving a lot of hype. I imagined that since the dish had been built up so much by users online, it could only disappoint when I gave it a shot.

I ordered the chicken parm as my dinner. And I can honestly say it's as close to perfection as you can get.

When the dish arrived at our table, my wife said out loud, "That is a lot of chicken." But the size of the portion only matters if it's food worth tasting. And this absolutely was.

Crispy. Tender. Cuts with a fork. Smothered in cheese. Not too much sauce. Massive portion. It checked every box for me.

Chicken parmigiana dish at Spano's Ristorante Italiano in Point Pleasant Beach (Dino Flammia, Townsqaure Media)/Canva illustration
Chicken parmigiana dish at Spano's Ristorante Italiano in Point Pleasant Beach (Dino Flammia, Townsqaure Media)/Canva illustration

Apparently, I've been missing out. When out to eat, I had never truly been wowed by chicken parm — in dinner or sandwich form. I just grew up loving my own mother's version so much, it's what I typically choose at a restaurant instead of a pasta dish.

The Spano's dinner came with a side of pasta as well as a salad. I'm not sure if I had ever spent more than $30 on chicken parm before, but this dish was well worth it — especially because the rest of my family loved their meals as well, along with the "meatball sampler" appetizer.

The BYOB restaurant is open seven days a week at 4 p.m., except for Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and Super Bowl Sunday. Reservations are handled over the phone — 732-701-1600.

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