Gusto Divino Trattoria
3930 Sunrise Hwy., Seaford
SERVICE: Earnest and attentive
AMBIENCE: Warm, casual
ESSENTIALS: Open Monday to Thursday noon to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday noon to 11 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Weekend reservations suggested; major credit cards accepted; wheelchair accessible
There are stretches of Sunrise Highway where the dining choices are either fast food or fasting. And abstinence may be best.
Along such a section, Gusto Divino Trattoria stands out like a beacon, an instantly likable and unpretentious restaurant devoted to Italian and Italian-American favorites.
Openhanded style, fair prices and very generous portions define Gusto Divino, which translates into “divine taste,” or if you capitalized the “v,” taste of wine.
Plenty of vino is poured here and the selection is both predictable and respectable, leaning toward sangiovese. Generally, so’s the food, also headed red.
But there are moments when the gods definitely are restless.
All this unfolds in a dining room in easygoing, neutral hues, with some comfortable half-moon banquettes and tables that won’t necessarily remind you of Mulberry Street and Butera’s, two previous occupants.
You’ll be greeted warmly. Your waiter will be genial and efficient. And there will be music. It’s live on Thursday and Saturday, with a recent repertoire geared to Baby Boomers fond of ’60s and ’70s hits. On other weekdays, the songs appeal to another generation, with a greatest-hits soundtrack that spins toward Louis Prima and Keely Smith.
When Prima sings “Angelina,” with its refs to antipasto, minestrone, a pizzeria and spumoni, you know you’re in the right place.
So, sample a soup, specifically the tomato-tinted pasta e fagioli, welcome on a winter night. Or brace yourself with arancini, rice balls of major-league proportions, filled with ground beef, peas and Parmesan cheese, boosted by pistachio pesto.
Slice into a husky, tasty mozzarella in carrozza. Turn contemporary for a moment with the mozzarella starter of creamy, soft, imported burrata, flanked by prosciutto and arugula and dressed with olive oil. Calamari arrabbiata, however, needs to be angrier, with sauce that’s more than irate marinara. The stuffed artichoke has charred petal tips and an off-key sauce similar to what you’d find with shrimp scampi-style.
Enjoy the eggplant rollatini appetizer, big enough to do double duty as a main course. It’s better than the eggplant napoleon, cut too thickly and layered with cool mozzarella and rounds of wintry tomato.
Pale tomatoes also sabotage the pizza Margherita, which is dotted with tiny cubes of them. If you’re in a pizza mood, the Sicilian is good, either to eat in or take out. Gusto Divino delivers locally.
Pastas, surprisingly, aren’t too reliable. Hefty lasagna with meat is undone by a pasty red sauce. Rigatoni portobello means chicken sauteed in Marsala colliding with mushrooms and marinara.
Mafalde, or ribbons akin to ruffled-edge pappardelle, are overorchestrated, with chicken meatballs, spinach, melted mozzarella, and pink sauce.
You can have fettuccine all’Alfredo, rigatoni with pesto, and penne alla vodka festooned with grilled chicken — a familiar alliance that almost always amounts to subtraction by addition.
Gnocchi turn heavyweight and dense on the side of an otherwise fine osso buco. The grilled pork chop, tender and large enough to share, comes with welcome hot and sweet cherry peppers before it’s derailed by melted provolone and marinara sauce.
Gusto Divino improves with a very good, ample version of chicken Parmigiana. Chicken scarpariello, here with ovals of sausage and chunks of potato, would have more flavor from chicken on the bone than rectangles of white meat.
The easily recommended secondo is light, moist branzino oreganata, draped on sauteed spinach. The competition: sole francese and grilled Scottish salmon.
Thursday is seafood night here, with a $32 fixed-price menu. Monday’s pasta night, at $19.95, has ravioli, baked ziti and spaghetti alla carbonara. On Sunday, the regular menu is available family-style.
The top desserts are the freshly filled cannoli and the eggy Italian cheesecake. Gelati also are lush. And, while they don’t have spumoni, the chocolate-covered, cherry-centered ice cream ball that has become synonymous with tartufo is an alternative.
Or you may abstain.