The chefs at Zaro's Café import the Mediterranean flavors of Greece and Italy onto plates brimming with Old World flavor. After perusing the extensive menu, dish archaeologists can excavate the Greek moussaka's layers of eggplant, potato, and ground beef doused in a béchamel sauce ($15.50), or an assortment of pastas that includes penne salmon, tossed with asparagus drenched in a roasted-pepper pink sauce ($15.95). Five models of tzatziki-topped gyros putt-putt toward mouths, from traditional to a hot, whole-wheat vegetarian gyro, stuffed with grilled asparagus, zucchini, white onion, and lettuce ($9.25). Neapolitan and square Sicilian pizza pies are available whole or by the slice, and calzones, rolls, and stromboli transport dough-wrapped flavor to mouths directly from the Boot. Or stamp culinary passports with Italian entrees, with classic options including veal marsala—veal medallions as tender as constructive criticism—sautéed with marsala wine and fresh mushrooms ($18.95).
For Mark Salese, old family recipes aren't sacrosanct, but they are important. According to the Long-Islander, Salese's grandparents immigrated to the United States from Naples, Italy, bringing a trove of their traditional recipes. At Almarco Italian Grill, he uses those dishes as jumping-off points, adding his own twists for a menu of pastas, pizza, and meats that blends tradition with innovation. Appetizers include a bruschetta sampler with seasonal toppings and chopped, baked littleneck clams topped with seasoned bread crumbs in a white-wine-garlic sauce. Those same clams make their way onto the baked-clam pizza, where they’re paired with melted mozzarella. Pasta shells are stuffed with seasoned ricotta, lobster ravioli bathes in garlic cream sauce, and pan-fried shrimp parmigiana is plated with linguine.
The Massa family can trace its roots back to two New York pizza legends—both of whom are named Patsy. One, Patsy Grimaldi, founded the famous Grimaldi's in Brooklyn. The other, Patsy Lancieri, was responsible for Patsy's of East Harlem. Given these connections, it's no surprise that the Massas have a knack for the pizza business. They've been serving their signature pies since 1933, and today, they bake each of them inside a coal-fueled oven at temperatures upwards of 900 degrees.
Atop regular, whole-wheat, or gluten-free dough, chefs add toppings such as meatballs and arugula. They also assemble a handful of specialty pizzas, crowned with everything from caramelized onions to whole chopped clams. Items like eggplant parmesan and pepperoni chips round out the menu, complemented by wine, beer, and after-dinner cappuccinos.
Pomodorino Ristorante Italiano strives to emulate an Old-World trattoria, serving a menu of iconic Italian favorites in an atmosphere where, according to the Long-Islander, “everyone is treated as a friend and regulars are treated like family.” The chefs capture this homey vibe in cuisine form by hand-rolling meatballs, simmering pots of tomato sauce from scratch, and crowning entrees with scraps of imported parmesan cheese. They also fire up a wood-burning brick oven to bake pizzas to a golden crisp and transform lasagnas into melty, cheese-laden meals.
The dining room embraces a similarly casual approach with red-checkered tablecloths and a ceiling-mounted trellis, which supports an intricate web of vines and strings of twinkling lights. The bar area’s shelving extends almost to the ceiling. Bartenders surmount the altitude obstacle by climbing a sliding librarian’s ladder to retrieve the treasures that line the topmost shelves: bottles of spirits and anything Paul Bunyan happened to drop when he was in the restaurant.
A Long Island native born into an Italian American family, Joseph Balbo knew early on that he wanted to devote his life to cooking. He honed his skills at the Italian Culinary Institute in Calabria, learning to combine traditional, Old World sensibilities with a New World spirit of innovation. Now manning the stovetops at Porto Vivo, which the New York Times called “Huntington’s latest hot spot,” in 2009, Chef Balbo runs a kitchen that has served numerous celebrities, including Serena Williams, celebrity chef Todd English, and Billy Joel.
The menu brims with familiar yet refined Italian staples, such as lobster ravioli with shaved black truffle and parmesan-crusted veal milanese. The chefs also demonstrate their creativity by glazing pan-seared Alaskan halibut with a yuzu vinaigrette and frying grappa-soaked grapes. To accompany this range of flavors, the restaurant also features an extensive wine list, which earned Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence. The selection emphasizes Italian producers, but it also boasts an array of bottles sourced elsewhere, including rare Californian wines as well as a first-growth bordeaux.
In many ways, the decor dovetails with the cuisine in its elegance and bringing together of disparate yet complementary elements. The clean, modern space features multiple levels, with high ceilings, taupe walls, leather booths, rich wood accents, and exposed brick.
Only 12 tables grace the interior of Bravo! Nader's cozy restaurant space, and Head Chef Nader Gebrin isn’t shy about bustling between them to rattle off recommendations and fist-bump his beloved customers. The convivial chef–who doubles as an avid fisherman–treats taste buds to light yet flavorful dishes that swell with housemade components, such as sausage with rolled beef braciole and meatballs in a tomato ragout. Three types of fresh fish—served whole and filleted—and homemade pesto gnocchi shine on Chef Nader's lively menu, where meals can start with a warm honey, goat cheese, and avocado arugula salad and finish with sweet bites of napoleon.
After sampling the restaurant's fine pasta dishes and health-conscious plates—including gluten-free options—guests master the preparation of mouthwatering Italian cuisine for themselves through the restaurant’s fun, interactive cooking classes. Chef Nader leads each lesson, imparting knowledge gained from his studies at a Swiss culinary school and years spent in the restaurant business.