It’s a meat-and-tomatoes issue.
Not that spuds have entirely given way to pomodori, but restaurants combining Italian fare and steakhouse specialties are growing on Long Island, bringing together the two most popular cuisines of Nassau and Suffolk.
“They’re two of my favorites,” said Frank Bono, owner of Primi Italian Steakhouse in West Islip. “Growing up, it was all Italian food to me . . . We wanted to do something a little different.” His restaurant broadened the local repertoire, price points and audience.
Primi, he said, attracts diners “who want a pasta and a glass of wine or steak with a bottle of cabernet sauvignon . . . We have to be accessible.”
Greg Garofano, owner of Puglia’s Italian Steakhouse in Seaford, said that diners split “about 50-50” in their steak and Italian choices at his restaurant, except on Saturday, when steaks reign.
“Originally, it was going to be a steakhouse,” Garofano said, since steak starred at his former eatery, Puglia’s in Garden City.
“I got my Puglia’s customers back, and added a new dimension when I decided to add Italian to it . . . We do a lot of families right up to couples going for a porterhouse for two and a $200 bottle of wine,” Garofano said. “There’s enough for everybody to eat.” Puglia’s Italian Steakhouse is an offspring of the century-old landmark Puglia’s in Manhattan’s Little Italy.
Nationwide, mixing Italian and Italian-American classics with steakhouse staples goes back at least a century: The Musso & Frank Grill is nearing its 100th birthday in Los Angeles, pairing steak and Italian.
The Palm was opened 1926 by Pio Bozzi and John Ganzi, who’d planned to call it Parma after their hometown. A clerk misunderstood the name because of their accents, and The Palm was born. It remains a major chain, which includes a branch in East Hampton. In Manhattan, there’s also Pietro’s, from 1932; in Chicago, Gene & Georgetti, since 1941.
The steak-Italian genre is comparatively new on Long Island, in part because there are so many Italian and Italian-American restaurants as well as steakhouses at varied prices and sufficient quality to attract steady clienteles.
What you may see locally on the menu of an Italian-American restaurant is steak alla pizzaiola, or steak in the style of pizza or the pizza maker. The dish originated in Naples. The steak is seared in a skillet or saucepan, and usually continues to cook covered with a seasoned, sometimes spicy, tomato sauce that may include garlic, marjoram, oregano, bell peppers, pepperoncini, onions or mushrooms. The sauce becomes the main event.
But the mainstays at Italian steakhouses are cuts of beef with taste and texture uninterrupted by a highly flavored sauce. They may invite long-distance comparison with, though not duplication of, the grandest steak of Italy: bistecca alla Fiorentina. The specialty of Florence is a dictionary-thick T-bone of Chianina beef grilled over wood or charcoal, served very rare, and seasoned only with olive oil, salt and pepper.
“My mother once said I wouldn’t go to bed until I ate a steak,” said Michael Esposito, owner of Vittorios Italian Steakhouse in Amityville. “I always loved steaks and the chemistry of aging them.” About a decade ago, he started serving steak specials on Wednesday nights at what was primarily an Italian restaurant.
Esposito said. “Why not put two of your favorite foods together and see what happens?” Wednesdays started to rival weekends.
Said Frank Bono of Primi, “It’s a balancing act.” The result: “We’ve grown every year.”
Here’s a taste of seven Italian steakhouses on Long Island.
Prime 1024 (1024 Northern Blvd., Roslyn): This grand, opulent spot dazzles along the Gold Coast’s steak row. Top steaks: tomahawk ribeye for two, bone-in rib eye, bone-in filet mignon. Best Italian: pappardelle with baby back rib ragu, chicken Parmigiana, veal Milanese. Something different: grilled swordfish with tomato, olives and capers. More info: 516-621-1024, prime1024.com
Tomahawk steak is served at Prime 1024 in Roslyn.
Primi Italian Steakhouse
Primi Italian Steakhouse (999 Montauk Hwy., West Islip): A handsome, openhanded restaurant with fine service and understated style. Top steaks: tomahawk rib eye, porterhouse for two, hanger steak with caramelized cipollini. Best Italian: cacio e pepe pasta, pappardelle Bolognese, veal chop Milanese, chicken scarpariello. Something different: sesame-seared tuna. More info: 631-526-9779, primiitalian.com
The porterhouse steak for two is served with sides of fingerling potatoes and sauteed broccoli rabe at Primi Italian Steakhouse in Islip.
Puglia’s Italian Steakhouse
Puglia’s Italian Steakhouse (3943 Merrick Rd., Seaford): Festive Puglia’s sports modernist paintings and a built-in electric fireplace with longhorns above. Top steaks: strip steak, porterhouse steak and tomahawk rib eye for two, steak alla pizzaiola on request. Best Italian: hot antipasto, meatballs with ricotta and marinara sauce, linguine with white clam sauce, Sunday sauce with beef braciola, meatball, sausage and pork on rigatoni. Something different: walnut-crusted salmon. More info: 516-809-9922, pugliasitaliansteakhouse.com
New York strip steak is served at Puglia’s Italian Steakhouse in Seaford.
Trento (1058 Broadhollow Rd., Farmingdale): Italian-American retro is the theme at this contemporary eatery. Top steaks: rib eye, porterhouse, strip steak, filet mignon. Best Italian: chicken Parmigiana, veal Marsala, rigatoni with short-rib ragu, fettuccine Bolognese, Kobe beef meatball. Something different: spicy tuna avocado roll. More info: 631-501-0303, trento110.com
Filet mignon with a veal red wine glaze is served at Trento in Farmingdale.
Viaggio Italian Chop House
Viaggio Italian Chop House (324 Sunrise Hwy., Rockville Centre): In the former site of Viaggio Tapas, this chophouse is more casual than other local Italian steakhouses. Top steaks: porterhouse, filet mignon, strip steak. Best Italian: rice balls, braised short ribs with polenta, grilled eggplant tower with zucchini, tomato and pesto, Sunday sauce with meatball, sausage, braciole and pasta. Something different: stuffed seafood avocado. More info: 516-208-7789, viaggiorvc.com
Prime skirt steak is served at Viaggio Italian Chop House in Rockville Centre.
The Palm at the Huntting Inn
The Palm at the Huntting Inn (94 Main St., East Hampton): The most bucolic, sunny link in the reliable chain, The Palm at The Huntting Inn offers big-city food and country-style lodging. Top steaks: double-cut New York strip and bone-in rib eye. Best Italian: veal or chicken Parmigiana and linguine with clam sauce. Something different: broiled jumbo lobsters. More info: 631-324-0411, thepalm.com
Filet mignon is served at The Palm at the Huntting Inn in East Hampton.
Vittorios Italian Steakhouse
Vittorios Italian Steakhouse (184 Broadway, Amityville): Vittorios is a lively dining room and bar area that’s also clubby and warm. Top steaks: bone-in strip steak, T-bone, porterhouse for two, tomahawk rib eye. Best Italian: veal chop Parmigiana, veal saltimbocca, garganelli with veal and sage ragu, chicken scarpariello, sole oreganata. Something different: mussels with Cajun sauce and chorizo sausage. More info: 631-264-3333, vittorios.biz
Porterhouse for two as prepared by Vittorios Italian Steakhouse in Amityville.