That's Freddy Sammarone, who runs this little eatery with big flavors. He moved here from Valley Stream, where the original Ciao Bella! also is remembered for hearty Italian cooking, plus an under-the-LIRR-tracks site that included a structural beam mid-room. It was like an industrial version of a classical column.
No such interruption in Hewlett. The storefront address, adjacent to a branch of the eat-in/take-out Pantano's Kitchen, has the look of a mini-trattoria and sends out food to match.
Colorful, vintage posters decorate the cozy spot: Leonetto Cappiello's classic "Pates Baroni," Achille Mauzon's "Maccheroni Pianigiani," others for Union Vins and Pezziol Padova. A slanted, tile roof brings the outdoors inside. It's all very sunny, akin to an oasis on this stretch of Broadway.
Sammarone's menu changes regularly, but it's consistently very good, often better. The emphases are southern Italian and Italian-American favorites, and sometimes the cuisine ventures north of Rome, too.
He prepares an excellent cavatelli alla Bolognese, loaded with savory meat sauce; and a spaghetti alla carbonara that almost equals it. Rigatoni tossed with crumbled sausage in a first-class pink sauce also stands out. Likewise: pasta alla chitarra, long strands in a purist's tomato-and-basil sauce. Black linguine with sauteed shrimp marinara trails them.
Stuffed calamari brings with it a taste of the deep, mightily marine and to the point. The house's clams posillipo evokes greater Naples in a production that's similar to linguine with clam sauce -- minus the linguine.
But the elemental dish here traces its heritage to a closer locale. It's lemon chicken, underscoring both words, a terrific rendition from the recipe immortalized at Rao's, the all-10-tables-are-always-taken establishment at 114th Street and Pleasant Avenue in East Harlem. You no longer have to make the always-unsuccessful phone call to Frankie P.
Competing with the lemon chicken is chicken arrabbiata, a tender, well-seasoned number with sweet red peppers and a reduction of rosemary-infused balsamic vinegar. But the pork chops paired with broccoli rabe are on the dry side. You're better off with the braised pork version of osso buco, with cavatelli.
Red snapper marechiaro respectably leads the seafood, along with zesty monkfish Livornese and the ever-present branzino, here finished with fennel and tomato.
For dessert: ricotta cheesecake, tiramisu, cannoli, in that order.
The restaurant seats about 40. Join the crowd. And, sometime during your meal, you'll meet Freddy, the exclamation point in Ciao Bella!