There may be decades worth of hospitality experience behind the team opening 1653 Pizza Co. this week in Huntington, but the owners find themselves flexing muscles that they have not exercised for years.
Frank Antonetti and his partners at the cocktail-centric Rust & Gold (Jay Janawksy, Lou Cohen and Claudio Sottile) are shifting their focus to dining and wine for the new venture two doors down which, despite its name, is really a contemporary Italian restaurant. And executive chef-partner Michael Vigliotti, one of LI’s leading pizzaioli, has dug much deeper into the Italian repertoire to create a menu that is only a third pizza.
1653 takes over the old Massa’s space facing the Gerard Street parking lot, and that means Vigliotti inherited the pizzeria’s massive coal-burning oven. The problem is, he was a wood-burning guy, arriving on LI’s pizza scene when he opened Vulcano 081 in Rockville Centre in 2015 and achieving cult status a few years later when he and Eddie Macari started slinging Neapolitan pies out of Avelino pizza truck at Macari Vineyards in Mattituck.
You may ask, "wood, coal, what’s the difference?" It’s a question Vigliotti has spent nearly two years answering. "It’s a good thing this place was delayed so long," he quipped, "it gave me enough time to figure out the pizza."
Coal, New York City’s original pizza fuel, burns hot — up to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit — whereas the traditional dome-shaped Neapolitan oven usually burns wood at about 800 degrees. It’s the heat of the oven that determines how wet or dry the pizza dough should be, how thick or thin the pie, how lavish or restrained the toppings, because in the time it takes the pizza to cook, all of those elements must achieve peak deliciousness.
Vigliotti and his partners had decided that their target pizza would have the light, puffy rim of a classic Neapolitan pie, but with a stiffer crust. His breakthrough came when he realized that a cooler oven was the way to achieve this, and that meant learning how to starve his coal fire of oxygen to keep it low and slow — at 600 degrees, his 12-inch pies take about five minutes. In another break from Neapolitan tradition, 1653 also makes 18-inch pies. But no slices. Small pies range from $14 to $22; large pies from $30 to $45.
The 13 pizzas on the menu range from classic Margherita, bianca (with mozzarella, pecorino, Fontina, scamorza and stracciatella) and wild mushroom (mozzarella, scamorza, maitake, king trumpet, pioppino, truffle paste and porcini dust) to more fanciful creations such as a pie with fresh and smoked mozzarella, bacon jam and shaved red onions. Pies topped with mortadella and pistachio cream are trendy on Long Island right now; Vigliotti says he started making one at Vulcano 081 in 2015; here it’s topped with stracciatella and pistachio dust.
This reporter, raised in New Haven, is both a fierce critic and vocal promoter of clam pizza. Vigliotti has come up with an unorthodox method involving a clam-infused cream (don’t worry, it bakes into the crust), lemon zest and pickled banana peppers that gives Frank Pepe, the world’s foremost purveyor of clam pizza, a run for his money.
For starters, 1653 offers a refined "pizzeria salad" with Trevisano radicchio, baby romaine and lemon-mustard vinaigrette; Roman-style rice balls made either with pork sugo or cheese and pepper; coal-oven-charred octopus with pea purée, guanciale (cured pig jowl) and spicy fried potatoes; fried calamari and shrimp served in a cone with parsley-lemon aioli. There are six pastas (among them, pesto lasagna, tonarelli carbonara and tagliatelle Bolognese) and three mains (coal-oven-roasted chicken, monkfish piccata and a butter-seared rib-eye. Starters range from $10 to $15; mains top out at $45 for the steak.
The liquid portion of 1653’s roster is the domain of Frank Antonetti, who made The Rust & Gold one of the Island’s best cocktail bars. There are craft cocktails and spirits here too, but Antonetti is most enthusiastic about his wine list which features lesser known Italian varieties such as Gavi from the Piedmont, Catarratto from partner Sottile’s native Sicily and Lambrusco, a red sparkler from Emilia-Romagna. Italian craft beers as well.
It’s Antonetti who came up with the name of the 49-seat restaurant: 1653 refers to the year that the Matinecock Indians sold what was then Huntington to three English settlers from Oyster Bay. He and his partners collaborated on the sleek, contemporary design which, notably, eschews Edison lights, reclaimed wood and Mason jars.
1653 Pizza Co. is at 80 Gerard St., Huntington, 631-824-6070.