Lavagna Is a Hotspot for Upscale Italian Fare in Suffern

Located in the former Java Love building, the Italian restaurant taps into small plates and local ingredients.

Suffern’s restaurant scene took a hit when longtime favorites Marcello’s Ristorante and Java Love Coffee Roasting Co. shuttered their doors between 2022 and 2023. Now, in 2024, locals can pay homage to both spots while celebrating an entirely new concept in the form of Lavagna.

Taking up the former Java Love space, which was a bank building prior to that, Lavagna aims to delight Italian food lovers in Rockland County. It has just the team to do so, since co-owners Ariel Aufgang, a first-time restaurateur and the architect behind Suffern-based Aufgang Architects, and Don Brennan, of the Mahwah, NJ-based Recon Construction, recruited none other than Lloyd Leon, Marcello’s former sommelier, to serve as host in the space.

Suffern restaurant interior
The interior is cozy and welcoming. Photo by Sabrina Sucato

In addition to his 25 years of experience in the Italian restaurant scene, Leon boasts a sommelier certification from the Sommelier Society of America and has been a frequent visitor to Italy, where he worked alongside Marcello’s former owner to learn more about the food and wine traditions inherent to Italian culture. Joining him is Chef David Werner, an experienced food professional in his own right who worked at multiple New York City eateries before heading up to Suffern.

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Place setting
Photo by Sabrina Sucato

Creating Lavagna

While the corner building on Lafayette Avenue was ripe for transformation into some sort of foodie establishment, it wasn’t until Aufgang and Leon put their heads together to brainstorm their favorite qualities in a restaurant that the concept for Lavagna began to form. They knew they wanted an atmosphere that would invite socialization, which for them meant quiet music, no television, and mood lighting. They also wanted to tap into the bounty of the region and source from local producers. Last, but certainly not least, they wanted the menu to be both creative and delicious, with a medley of staples and rotating items that keep diners coming back for more.

In regard to design, Aufgang led the way. The noted architect designed his office building at 74 Lafayette, so it was only natural that he’d lead the renovation of his new eatery space, which he had purchased after the bank closed and then leased to Java Love. Following the coffee shop’s closure, he and Leon developed their plan on New Year’s Eve 2023, then commenced demolition the day that Java Love moved out.

Specials board at Lavagna
Look to the blackboards for daily specials. Photo by Sabrina Sucato

The Food

While the 54-seat Lavagna is still a newcomer to town (it opened on May 7), it’s already a favorite among locals. According to Leon, the dining hour has been particularly popular, with a full house almost nightly. The restaurant has gradually introduced lunch and weekend brunch, so area foodies have every excuse to plan a visit.

“It’s welcoming for visitors who just want a glass of wine, or for those who want a full meal,” the Lavagna team explains. “Lavagna means ‘blackboard’ in Italian, and the walls are covered in blackboards that display the menu. The selection is regularly updated depending on what is in season and what ingredients the chef is able to obtain.”

The charcuterie boards are perfect to share with friends. Photo by Sabrina Sucato

Speaking of that selection, it’s an inviting mix of small, sharable plates that invite diners to linger and savor a meal with friends. Visitors can start with crudo such as scallops with grapefruit and Calabrian chili or dig into insalate (salads) such as an imported burrata option featuring spring peas and shaved asparagus. And then there’s the dedicated sharables section, which spotlights tempting bites like Spanish octopus with chickpeas and local black bass with a cherry tomato salad.

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Within those dishes, vegetables come from farms in eastern Pennsylvania and across neighboring New Jersey, while oysters and most fish are from Long Island. Lavagna also relies upon Marcelli Formaggi for specialty imported Italian ingredients.

The meatballs at Lavagna
The meatballs at Lavagna are a crowd favorite. Photo by Sabrina Sucato

When asked about diner favorites thus far, Werner is quick to respond.

“The meatballs,” he notes.

One taste, and it’s easy to see why. Made with a blend of pork, beef, and veal, not to mention a presentation with just the right amount of sauce and creamy stracciatella, these meatballs are the sort of thing that will have you wondering if your nonna’s really are better.

Uniquely, Lavagna is one of the few eateries in the region to offer pinsa, a.k.a. Roman-style pizzas, which come in a variety of styles and are highly shareable. There’s also a dedicated bread service, artisanal charcuterie boards, a plethora of pastas, and, if you’re really feeling indulgent, a high-ticket caviar spread complete with crème fraiche, brunoise hard-cooked egg, and blinis.

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Italian beer
The Suffern restaurant boasts an exciting Italian beer selection. Photo by Sabrina Sucato

The Drinks

With a sommelier like Leon at the figurative host stand, it’s hardly a surprise that Lavagna’s libations are top-notch. The restaurant has a beer and wine license and boasts over 125 wine labels by the bottle and 25 by the glass, with offerings ranging from classic reds and whites to prosecco, cava, Champagne, and even wine cocktails. For visitors who just want a really good beer, Lavagna delivers on that front as well. The eatery stocks 11 craft beers from Italy, many of which are quite hard to find stateside. And, of course, for diners who aren’t sure which drink to pair with their meal, Leon is always happy to share a recommendation.

The menu
A peek at the menu. Photo by Sabrina Sucato

An Exciting Future for Lavagna

Now that the restaurant’s opening has come and gone, Leon and Werner are looking forward to welcoming both new and repeat diners to the eatery. Leon shares that most visitors thus far have been passersby or curious locals, while others have come across the eatery on social media. Regardless of how they discovered Lavagna, there’s a high chance that, once they dine in, they’ll soon be back for a repeat visit.

Wine cellar
The former bank vault is now an intimate dining room for two. Photo by Sabrina Sucato

And for anyone who visited the older iterations of the space and is wondering what happened to the bank vault, it’s still there. Aufgang transformed it into a romantic wine cellar that doubles as a table for two. Needless to say, it’s the perfect spot for that next date night or anniversary celebration.

50 Lafayette Ave, Suffern


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