Family-style Italian restaurants on Long Island

+-

“When you’re here, you’re family,” claims a well-known national chain. But Olive Garden has nothing on Long Island’s homegrown family-style Italian restaurants, where countless thousands of hungry diners share enormous platters of linguine and clams, veal Parmesan, clams oreganata, Caesar salad and other stars of the Italian-American repertoire.

The first family-style Italian on Long Island was La Parma in Williston Park, which opened in 1984. Owners Tony Gralto and Dominick Gregorio were veterans of Don Peppe in Ozone Park, generally regarded as the first family-style restaurant in New York City.

“Don Peppe’s was a little hole in the wall,” Gralto said, “with a menu hanging on the wall. They served a lot of athletes and celebrities but no matter who the customer was, it was ‘You sit over there! You sit over there!’ I had a lot of customers who came from Long Island and I figured if I opened a place like that and was a little nicer, it would be a hit.”

And it was. Gralto and Gregorio opened three more La Parma locations, and over the next three decades, family-style Italian restaurants multiplied all over Nassau and Suffolk.

For old-timers like La Parma and Piccola Bussola, virtually nothing has come off the menu. But plenty has been added. “Our original menu probably had 20 items on it,” said Tony Lubrano, whose family owns Piccola Bussola locations in Huntington and Mineola (as well as La Bussola in Glen Cove). “Now it’s grown to 80 or more.” He observed that “what an Italian restaurant served 30 years ago is now what most pizzerias serve. We have to keep current.” That means not only adding grilled salmon and burrata, but more vegetarian-friendly and gluten-free options, as well as the ubiquitous zucchini noodles for those avoiding carbs.

There’s no family-style restaurant that doesn’t also serve individual portions — though each is typically big enough for two. Many operators have found that while family-style rules on weekends, weeknights attract smaller parties who eschew belly-busting. “During the week we have couples coming in for a casual dinner,” said Leonard Oliva, co-owner of Ciao Baby in Commack and Massapequa Park. “And we have plenty of folks who are sitting at the bar, watching the game, and want something to eat.”

House specialties aside, most of the Island’s family-style Italian spots have similar menus, with appetizers (baked clams, fried calamari, antipasto platters, stuffed artichokes) hovering around $20; pastas (marinara, clam sauce, frutti di mare, alla vodka) and mains (Parms, Marsalas and Franceses of chicken and veal, chicken scarpariello, shrimp scampi) $25 to $35, though steaks and chops usually run a bit higher. And even if the whole family is digging in, there’s often leftovers that will take you through the next few nights.

If you’ve never indulged in family-style dining, here’s a list of our favorites to get your party started.

Butera’s

Server David Cohen (center), helps patrons place their
(Credit: Daniel Brennan)

Butera’s (100 S. Main St., Sayville): When Butera’s opened its Sayville casual Italian restaurant in 2010, the team decided it would serve family style. Martin Butera, who owns the mini-chain with his wife Laurie, brother Gary and Nick Zografos, said, “The space was perfect for the concept — with large, round tables.” Butera acknowledges that the team “didn’t reinvent the wheel,” but believes that sharing at the table “is always in style, whether it’s family-style Italian or tapas or fondue.” (Butera’s Smithtown location at 65 E. Main St. will do family style upon request; the Woodbury location does not.) On the menu: Caesar and asparagus-mushroom salads are both fine and big enough to satisfy two salad pasta-averse guests. Chicken Parm is appealingly gooey with a good ratio of chicken to sauce to cheese. Rigatoni Butera is the ultimate crowd-pleaser, with crumbled veal sausage and peas in a tomato-cream sauce. Among the terrific homemade desserts, try the moist pound cake with almonds and Amaretto sauce. More info: 631-563-0805, buteras.com

Rigatoni with broccoli rabe,  homemade chicken meatballs, tomato,
(Credit: Daniel Brennan)

Rigatoni with broccoli rabe, homemade chicken meatballs, tomato, and cannellini beans in garlic and olive oil is served at Butera's in Sayville.

La Spezia Ristorante Italiano

La Spezia offers the pleasures of eating family-style
(Credit: Bruce Gilbert)

La Spezia Ristorante Italiano (400 Glen Cove Ave., Sea Cliff): One of Long Island’s newest family-style Italians, La Spezia opened last year in Sea Cliff, taking over the spot that was, briefly, Taormina and, before that, Allison’s and Amalfi. Owner Dario Gaite said that “La Spezia” refers to the town on the Ligurian coast in northwestern Italy from which his grandfather emigrated. But the cuisine here is pretty straight-forward Southern Italian meets Nassau’s North Shore. On the menu: The local Italian-restaurant tradition of “burnt” vegetables here is applied not only to broccoli but to cauliflower, string beans and Brussels sprouts. Some of the other less-familiar items include shrimp alla Spezia (battered served over burnt string beans) and paccheri del giorno (giant, Neapolitan rigatoni in a mushroom-prosciutto cream sauce). More info: 516-801-4155, laspeziafamilystyle.com

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISE HERE
La Spezia in Sea Cliff serves large portions,
(Credit: Bruce Gilbert)

Chicken marsala is served at La Spezia Ristorante Italiano in Sea Cliff.

La Parma

Sean Rosen (center left) dines with his family
(Credit: Daniel Brennan)

La Parma (multiple locations): Long Island’s first family-style Italian restaurant was modeled after Don Peppe’s in Ozone Park, where founders Tony Gralto and Dominick Gregorio were, respectively, waiter and cook. “It was like you’re eating in your kitchen with your family on Sunday,” Gralto recalled. “That’s what people loved.” Their original Williston Park restaurant (707 Willis Ave.) opened in 1984, followed by Huntington (452 W. Jericho Tpke.) in 1987, Oceanside (410 Merrick Rd.) in 1990 and Port Washington (415 Main St.) in 2010. On the menu: Gralto has sold so much chicken over the years, “they tell me I am growing feathers.” He is partial to the bird whether scarpariello (served on or off the bone), campagnola (scarpariello with peppers, onions, sausage and potatoes) or Chinese (counterintuitively, baked with tomato sauce, garlic and prosciutto). A new addition to the menu is cedar-planked salmon with wasabi-ginger sauce, and the kitchen stocks planks big enough to feed salmon to the whole family. More info: laparma.com

Homemade Zucca pasta with diced onions, prosciutto, peas,
(Credit: Daniel Brennan)

Homemade zucca pasta with diced onions, prosciutto, peas, extra virgin olive oil and garlic is served at La Parma in Huntington.

Riella’s Homestyle

Nicholas Ciccarelli from Melville, Ciro Ciccarelli from East
(Credit: Yvonne Albinowski)

Riella’s Homestyle (3103 N. Jerusalem Rd., Wantagh): After nearly two decades spent cycling through pizzerias, Vito Rastelli and Jimmy Giaccone added family-style dining to their latest pie shop in 2013 in hopes of re-creating a childhood fondness for meals at Don Peppe. Located in a strip mall that also houses a takeout Chinese restaurant, a hair salon and a foot spa, the intimate dining room and takeout pizzeria are divided by a half wall. Here, servers are friendly, food arrives hot and quick, and it’s OK to strike up a hearty conversation with diners at a neighboring table. Giaccone mans the kitchen where, he boasts, “the ingredients that I use in the restaurant is what you’ll find in my house and in my mother’s house.” On the menu: Moments after being seated, warm buttery rolls and simple tomato-topped bruschetta arrive at the table, giving you more time to study the vast menu of classic fare mixed with the chef’s creations. One you’ll need is the white calamari arrabbiata: crispy squid tossed in a thick cherry-pepper-studded white wine, garlic and lemon sauce. Skip the chewy and greasy Johnny Boy’s veal chop and instead go for the eggplant Parmesan, which is better than most, due in large part to Giaccone’s deft hand at making a standout marinara sauce. More info: 516-719-5333, riellashomestyle.com

Cold antipasto salad with lettuce, roasted red peppers,mozzarella
(Credit: Yvonne Albinowski)

Cold antipasto salad with lettuce, roasted red peppers, mozzarella and asparagus topped with balsamic is served at Riella’s Homestyle in Wantagh.

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISE HERE

Piccola Bussola

Annette Guerriero from Garden City, Bridgette Gallagher from
(Credit: Yvonne Albinowski)

Piccola Bussola (multiple locations): Long Island’s two Piccola Bussolas are the children of La Bussola, the elegant, old-school Italian opened in 1980 by Pasquale Lubrano and Steve Vaccaro. In 1991, the first Piccola Bussola opened in Westbury, though there was nothing “little” about the space or, especially, the servings. Lubrano died in 2006; his sons Tony, John, Carlo and Marco own and operate Glen Cove, Huntington (970 W. Jericho Tpke.) and Mineola (159 Jericho Tpke.). (Vaccaro now owns the Westbury location as well as Steve’s Piccola Bussola in Syosset.) On the menu: Stuffed artichokes, a dish that Pasquale learned in the ’60s when he cooked at the notorious mob hangout La Stella in Forest Hills, is a perennial favorite — as are the stuffed eggplant and mushrooms on the antipasto platter that’s big enough to feed a christening party. Chicken scarpariello, hearty and served on the bone, is a winner, too. More info: piccolabussolarestaurant.com

Hot antipasto with baked clams, stuffed mushrooms, stuffed
(Credit: Yvonne Albinowski)

Hot antipasto with baked clams, stuffed mushrooms, stuffed eggplant and shrimp marinara is served at Piccolo Bussola in Mineola.

La Famiglia

La Famigilia staff gather around a table to
(Credit: Daniel Brennan)

La Famiglia (multiple locations): The Cracchiolos have been in the Italian restaurant business for decades, but it wasn’t until 1999 that they decided to create a family-style affair. As Salvatore Cracchiolo tells it, each time he and his brothers gathered for dinner, “the family was getting bigger and bigger.” The dinner table became the test kitchen. The other Italian restaurants closed and family-style became their sole focus. The chainlet boasts three locations in Plainview (641 Old Country Rd.), Babylon (90 W. Main St.) and Smithtown (closed until summer for a renovation), each featuring similar menus of classic Italian fare dotted with family recipes from the Cracchiolos’ Sicilian and Napolese roots. Think spiedini, Osso buco and ribs in ragu. On the menu: Cracchiolo patriarch Rosario oversees the kitchen with chef partner Joe Cruz where plump baked clams arrive hot with a balance of crisp herb-filled bread crumbs. A heaping platter of unconventional linguine carbonara comes tossed in a cream sauce, bacon and caramelized onions. Calamari fra diavolo is a break from the usual, sautéed and tossed with a fiery marinara sauce. As for dessert, tiramisu is sweet and pleasing. More info: lafamigliany.com 

Burrata special with Parma prosciutto, roasted peppers, tomato,
(Credit: Daniel Brennan)

Burrata special with Parma prosciutto, roasted peppers, tomato, black and green olives, and baby arugula is served at La Famiglia in Plainview.

Ciao Baby

Ann Martin (left) and her husband Gabe (right),
(Credit: Daniel Brennan)

Ciao Baby (multiple locations): Ciao Baby opened in Commack (204 E. Jericho Tpke.) in 2000 with a Rat Pack theme: Sammy Davis Jr. might be flickering on a video screen while Dean Martin croons over the sound system. Three years later, the Massapequa Park location (50-74 Sunrise Hwy.) followed suit. Now, said Leonard Oliva, who owns both restaurants with Frank Cammarata, the music is more likely to be Top 40 and he’s luring a younger crowd with modern brick-oven pizzas and a lively bar scene. Massapequa got a complete makeover in 2014; Commack will get a face-lift this year. On the menu: The Ciao Baby party starts with the volleyball-sized Sicilian rice ball, filled with meat sauce, peas, melted mozzarella and ricotta. Gemelli con salsiccia is twirled “twin” macaroni tossed with sausage, mushrooms, broccoli rabe in a sundried-tomato cream sauce; the “Old World” meat platter features meatballs, hot and sweet sausage, lamb and pork shoulder, all in a tomato sauce served over rigatoni. More infociaobabyrestaurant.com

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISE HERE
Nona's old world meat platter, with veal, beef,
(Credit: Daniel Brennan)

Nona's "Old World" meat platter, with veal, beef, and pork, meatballs and hot and sweet sausage over rigatoni is served at Ciao Baby in Commack.

Matteo’s

Adrienne Hollander and Shelli Kingsley from Westbury get
(Credit: Yvonne Albinowski)

Matteo’s (88 Mineola Ave., Roslyn Heights): For its first two decades, Matteo’s, est. 1992, hewed closely to the family-style tradition, in surroundings that were less compelling than the fare. But in 2014, Jerry Sbarro, who bought the place from original owners Sal, Andrew and Susan Sorrentino in 2008, decided it was time to freshen the concept. Accordingly, the dining room is now a cool, contemporary blend of marble, wood and stone. Matteo’s Huntington location is nearing the end of a two-year renovation; Sbarro hopes to reopen by May. (Matteo’s of Bellmore is no relation, having licensed the name from the Sorrentinos before they sold to Sbarro.) On the menu: Since the makeover, Matteo’s specials menu will feature such New American fare as tuna tartare or grilled whole branzino, but the classics still rule: Nonna’s ragu is a Sunday gravy featuring hunks of short rib, meatballs, sausage and a big slab of ricotta to offset its deep-red savor; chicken ultimate — lightly fried cutlets in a lemony sauce, topped with melted mozzarella and cherry peppers — is perfect for the diner who can’t decide between Francese and Parmesan. More info: 516-484-0555, matteosristorante.com

Cavatelli pescatore with lobster at Matteo's, Roslyn, Dec. 29,
(Credit: Yvonne Albinowski)

Cavatelli pescatore with lobster is served at Matteo’s in Roslyn Heights.

Patrizia’s

Jennifer Creales from Hempstead, Marie Nicole Gerbino from
(Credit: Yvonne Albinowski)

Patrizia’s (1040 S. Broadway, Hicksville): With branches in New Jersey, Staten Island, Brooklyn and the Bronx, Patrizia’s opened last year in the cavernous space in Hicksville’s Planet Fitness shopping center that was most recently DeBello’s Restaurant & Bar and, before that, Pizza Fabbrica. Be prepared for raucous renditions of the birthday song and, as the night progresses, singalongs (and, occasionally, dance-alongs) to — among other songs — “Sweet Caroline,” “That’s Amore” and “Greased Lightning.” On the menu: Patrizia’s offers a standard Italian-American menu as well as pizzas and Neapolitan sandwiches (panuozzi) from the wood-burning oven. The family-style menu, which the whole table (minimum two people) must order, is another thing entirely. Fifty dollars buys every person an onslaught that includes seven appetizers (Margherita pizza, eggplant Parmesan, artichokes gratinata, burrata, fried calamari, grilled octopus, baked clams) followed by a platter of the house-special pasta, fioretti alla boscaiola (purses filled with ricotta in a mushroom-prosciutto cream sauce), a platter of lamb chops and skirt steak, and, finally, a platter of Italian desserts. Plus unlimited soda, sangria, house wine (Liberty Creek, not winning any awards) or domestic beer. More info: 516-932-1600, menu at patriziasofbrooklyn.com

Lamb chops and steak, Patrizia's, Hicksville, Dec. 29,
(Credit: Yvonne Albinowski)

Lamb chops and steak are served at Patrizia’s in Hicksville.

388

Diners share large plates of Italian specialties at
(Credit: Bruce Gilbert)

388 (388 Willis Ave., Roslyn Heights): In 2012, the 2-year-old American restaurant 388 was taken over by Salvatore and Alexia Sorrentino (whose family used to own Matteo’s up the road) and Chris Tsarsi. The place feels like a clubhouse where patrons, managers and servers all know one another’s names. At one table, a well-manicured girls night out; at another, expensively shirted men wearing chunky wristwatches who wish they could smoke a cigar in the dining room. (Chris & Tony’s in Syosset, owned by the same team plus Tony Ambrosio and Chris Fichera, has a nearly identical menu.) On the menu: Baked clams, meatballs, linguine with white clam sauce are among the well-rendered classics. Country chicken is a souped-up scarpariello with broccoli, peppers, sausage and potatoes (388’s scarpariello just features the bird). Also recommended: shrimp Luciano (sautéed with wine, lemon, a touch of tomatoes and plenty of garlic) and shrimp “krak” (Luciano jacked up with cherry peppers). More info: 516-621-3888, 388restaurant.com

Linguine with white clam sauce at 388 Restaurant
(Credit: Bruce Gilbert)

Linguine with white clam sauce is served at 388 restaurant in Roslyn Heights.

Enter your email address to subscribe to the Feed Me newsletter

Sign up

By clicking Sign up, you agree to our privacy policy.

Related Media

Things you didn't know about Italian food. 30 things you didn't know about Italian food Mezzi rigatoni with Sunday sauce at Brunello Italian The best pasta dishes on Long Island Casa Rustica (175 W. Main St., Smithtown): Mimmo LI's 10 best Italian restaurants of 2017: Eat here now

Comments

Newsday.com now uses Facebook for our comment boards. Please read our guidelines and connect your Facebook account to comment.

By using this site, you agree to our Privacy policy.

OK
Sorry to interrupt...

Your first 5 are free

Access to Newsday is free for Optimum customers.

Please enjoy 5 complimentary views to articles, photos, and videos during the next 30 days.

LOGIN SUBSCRIBE