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Garden City's Calagero’s: Dinner with a smile

At Calagaero's in Garden City, pan-roasted mozzarella is

At Calagaero's in Garden City, pan-roasted mozzarella is served with tomatoes and arugula. (Dec. 13, 2012) Newsday / Erica Marcus Photo Credit: Newsday / Erica Marcus

Calagero’s serves a version of Italian cooking that’s so common on Long Island that it’s really its own cuisine. You know the drill: Clams oreganata share the appetizer bill with P.E.I mussels; the pasta roster includes old-country favorites and American standards like pasta alla vodka and penne primavera; entrees range from Francese-Marsala-Parmigiano land to blackened rare tuna with chipotle aioli. Entrees come with a mixed-vegetable medley, and there’s plenty of portobello and balsamic.

At a recent dinner here, I had nits to pick with much of what we ordered: Why use out-of-season tomatoes to anchor an otherwise delicious pan-roasted mozzarella appetizer? Why drown a well-cooked chicken saltimbocca with brown sauce to the point that the distinctive flavors of sage and ham can no longer be perceived?

And yet I couldn’t help but enjoy my meal. Everyone at Calagero’s is so welcoming, from the busboys who were vigilant about clearing plates to the unseen line cook who split a shared salad into two plates without our having asked. The wine list has some bargain glasses of house wines for folks who really don’t care, plus a nice selection of better ones for those who do.

Calagero’s was opened in 2002 by owner Ronald DiGangi. “Who’s Calagero?” I asked him on the phone. “Cal-o-gero, that was my uncle Charlie,” he told me. “We wanted to name the restaurant after him and I asked my 89-year-old aunt how he spelled his name. She got it a little wrong.”

Earlier this year DiGangi got the go-ahead from the Garden City board of trustees to expand his restaurant into the neighboring space, formerly occupied by Garden City Galleries. He hopes to start construction by February, and the new, larger Calagero’s will have a much larger bar, a party room and a separate entrance for a pizzeria.

Calagero’s is at 919 Franklin Ave., Garden City, 516-294-2922.

Pan-roasted mozzarella with arugula salad, roasted peppers and tomatoes

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