Friday night at Stango's and former Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi is working the room. "Where are you all from?" he asks a party of four. Clearly, not Glen Cove, since Suozzi and his wife, Helene, that night's hostess, seem to be on a first-name basis with just about everyone else in the house. The political couple, lead investors in the rebirth of this 94-year-old landmark, have much history at the restaurant and surrounding Italian-American neighborhood.
Ultimately, though, what will draw you back to Stango's checkered-cloth tables won't be the megawatt smiles of its boldface owners or the historic photos lining its walls but, more fundamentally, its first-class red sauce. And its straightforward Italian repertoire melding the skills of chef Gabriel Massaro with the culinary legacy of 96-year-old restaurant matriarch Stella Stango Cocchiola, who still drops by to eat.
Stella's house salad -- a fresh, homestyle mix of iceberg, vegetables, salami and cheese -- is a crowd-pleaser, working well with the addictive house-made focaccia and garlic knots in the breadbasket. An individual "regular" Neapolitan pizza has a crisp rim, although its topping of molten sauce and cheese makes the crust sag at the center. While clams Posillipo with red sauce is pleasing, some of the briny fresh mollusks are a bit chewy. One weeknight, the pasta e fagiole comes out as a bowl of pasta and beans, harboring but a spoonful of soup. But baked clams, beneath a mantle of bread crumbs, are just right.
You'll definitely want a side order of meatballs; they're plush, well seasoned, irresistible. So, too, is the meltingly good eggplant Parmigiana. Another happy marriage of mozzarella and red sauce is the light, meaty lasagna Bolognese. And lush crepes Fiorentina -- essentially, spinach, ricotta and meat cannelloni. A rustic treat is penne with sausage and broccoli rabe in garlic and oil.
Chicken pizzaiola, boneless breasts with onions, peppers and mushrooms, is good, but the half roasted spring chicken is terrific. It may take about 40 minutes to come but it's worth the wait.
Finish with a slice of creamy cheesecake from nearby St. Rocco's Bakery and some very good espresso. Even if you're not from the 'hood, you'll feel well cared for.