Last week while asking where the best red gravy can be found in Central Jersey, we came upon Espo's restaurant in Raritan Borough.

Espo's has been a staple in Somerset County since 1974. Nick Zamora and his partner Kevin Sempervive bought Espo's in 2019 after the owner passed away,

It was Nick's dream to give Espo's a fresh new start merging the old with the new. He called me on New Jersey 101.5 to talk about it and emailed me these answers to my questions. I'm getting hungry just looking at the pictures.

Can you tell us about the history of Espo's?

"Espo's opened in 1974. It was a staple 'red sauce' restaurant and bar in Somerset County for generations. It is in the middle of a residential neighborhood, off the main street. There were no personal menus, as there were chalkboard menus on the walls with items like Stuffed Peppers, Vodka Rigatoni, Braciole, and Shrimp Scampi."

Espo's in Raritan Google Maps
Espo's in Raritan Google Maps
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"Although the menus are not on the wall anymore, the same menu items mentioned above are still available, plus more, like Clams Casino, Clams Oreganato, Chicken and Pork Chops Murphy, Chicken Savoy, and our Daily Specials which are always based on fresh and seasonal products."

Clams Casino (left) and Clams Oreganato (right), Photo Courtesy of Espo's
Clams Casino (left) and Clams Oreganato (right), Photo Courtesy of Espo's
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"Most importantly, we have the same chef making all of the sauces, and old-school menu items as years before. The sauces (Marinara, Vodka Sauce, White or Red Clam Sauce) are really the heart of Espo's. Chef Phil has been an instrumental part of the transition between the Old and The New Espo's."

"While we did an extensive renovation on the inside of the restaurant, when you walk into Espo's now, you feel the essence of the past. Down to using the same placemats, candle holders, Tiffany lamps, and the famous rotating Budweiser light, we transport you back to 1974."

This article really sums up everything that my partner Kevin and I did to capture the old Espo's, while giving it a fresh start."

Was it hard living up to the tradition of the old Espo's?

"Of course. We knew that we had big shoes to fill. Luckily, we have some of the most loyal customers in the world. They're always on our side, and rooting for us to succeed. Our guests embraced change, and appreciated all the items that we are able to retain from before we took over. We didn't want to make you feel like you were at a new restaurant, we wanted you to feel like you were back at Espo's. Having a familiar face behind the bar like George, who has been an important part of Espo's since the '70s, made coming back to Espo's even more special"

What does Nick recommend when you go there?

"To start, you gotta go with the Hotsy Totsy Shrimp. Those are lightly floured butterflied shrimp that are quickly fried and tossed in our marinara sauce, and topped with crushed red pepper, pecorino romano cheese, and herbs. Pro Tip: Try them in our vodka sauce."

Photo Courtesy of Espo's
Hotsy Topsy Shrimp, Photo Courtesy of Espo's
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"For Pasta, our Rigatoni Vodka is the best of the best. It really is hands down the best vodka sauce you'll ever have".

"For Entrée, we are famous for our Steak Parm. That's a grilled 16 oz. Ribeye Steak, topped with marinara, and melted mozzarella cheese. Cool fact: we have a grill behind our main bar that we use to cook all of our steaks and chops! People love that they can see their steak being grilled."

Grilled Ribeye Steaks their famous Steak Parm, Photo Courtesy of Espo's
Grilled Ribeye Steaks their famous Steak Parm, Photo Courtesy of Espo's
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A new menu item that has been a huge hit is our Pork Chops Murphy... that is two grilled reserve cut pork chops, fried potatoes, and sautéed sweet Italian sausage, mushrooms, and hot cherry peppers. We also do a Chicken Murphy with roasted chicken on the bone.

Pork Chop Murphy, Photo Courtesy of Espo's
Pork Chop Murphy, Photo Courtesy of Espo's
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What makes his gravy so good?

It's all about the gravy meat AKA, the bones! Gravy meat can be anything from spare ribs, neck bones, short ribs, and of course... meatballs, braciole, and sausage. All the different kinds of meat, bones, and fat content are what turns a normal sauce... into a GRAVY!

Does he call it gravy or sauce?

"In my house, and on Sunday at Espo's we call it GRAVY. My Grandma has a rule, "the minute you throw meat in a sauce, it becomes gravy. And that's that."

Photo Courtesy of Espo's
Photo Courtesy of Espo's
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What sets his meatballs apart from the rest?

"We use a blend of pork, veal, and beef, in our meatballs. Each one is hand-rolled. Our meatballs are an old-school recipe; one that's probably used in many households in New Jersey. We don't cut corners, we don't skimp out, we do it the right way. I think when you take a bite, it takes you back home, or to your Grandma's house."

Check out Espo's here.

Opinions expressed in the post above are those of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Steve Trevelise only. Follow him on Twitter @realstevetrev.

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