Jesse Schenker, the resident chef at the helm of transforming Oyster Bay into a serious dining destination since the opening of 2 Spring in 2018, has unveiled Gioia, a love letter to the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy in the form of an intimate 10-table restaurant.
Gioia, meaning “joy,” is focused on Schenker's favorite Italian region. “I love everything about Emilia-Romagna — mortadella, gnocco fritto, prosciutto Parmigiano-Reggiano; I love the use of butter and stuffed pastas," he said. "To me, the food of this region is equal parts comfort and culinary delight.” And Gioia is just that — cozy and comfortable, full of rustic, satisfying plates. The pastas are made in-house on an Arcobaleno machine; a Berkel slicer thins out the prosciutto de Parma, sourced from small Italian importers. Schenker looks to importer Marcelli Formaggi for the cheeses and cart selections.
The beauty of Gioia’s menu is in its simplicity. The starters are nearly all vegetables or sliced meats that can be served with gnocco frito or with housemade mozzarella (the only departure from the region; mozzarella originated in Campania). There’s tigella bread from Bologna filled with mortadella, marinated peppers and olives; grilled cauliflower over whipped ricotta and garnished with lemon, pistachio, and Parmigiano-Reggiano; and asparagus and mushrooms topped with a fried egg and Grana Padano.
The pastas, of which there are seven and a polenta, are often filled — a trademark of Emilia-Romagna — including a spinach ravioli with sage in brown butter and a seasonal, hearty cappellacci, folded like an open envelope, with squash, apple, ricotta and mosto cotto (grape syrup). A classic mortadella, sausage and prosciutto stuffed tortellini in brodo will run as a special. But it’s the gramigna, an oft-overlooked letter G-shaped pasta with spicy sausage, spinach and tomato pasta that seems to live on every table.
Nightly specials include T-bone steak (Monday), whole grilled fish (branzino on a recent visit, Wednesday), and lasagna Bolognese (Sunday) accompanied by a side dish (try the addictive crispy potatoes). The simplicity of the menu also extends to price; most all dishes are less than $30.
Like Schenker's other restaurants, Gioia boasts a thoughtful bar, here backed by an exposed brick wall, ambient lighting and an ample cocktail list. Signature and classic cocktails join a Negroni menu, as well as a spritz cart and tableside martinis (gin or vodka). Will Marengo, the man behind the wine, has compiled an all-Italian list that hopscotches the country.
Schenker was the talent behind Manhattan’s recette and The Gander, a semifinalist for two James Beard Award nominations and won an "Iron Chef" title in 2010. He moved out to Long Island and partnered with Oyster Bay's Claudia Taglich to open a new chapter that began with 2 Spring and continued to the neighboring spot FOUR, a 10-seat, 12-15 course tasting menu that relies heavily on raw seafood and fish. Most recently, Schenker opened Gimme Burger, an approachable spot for burgers, fries and shakes from a chef better known for tasting menus and truffles.
Gioia, he explained, was always on the horizon. “Emilia-Romagna continues to be an underrepresented region in Italy as far as restaurants go. I didn’t envision another red sauce joint in Oyster Bay. I hope that people come to love this part of Italy as much as we do.”
Gioia, 94 South St., Oyster Bay, 516-922-1660, gioianewyork.com. Open Monday through Sunday for dinner from 4:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday for brunch from noon to 3 p.m.