Bustling, friendly and full of hearty, good food, La Pala has found an instant niche in downtown Glen Cove. You just have to find it.
Although the address is Glen Street, the cozy restaurant isn't visible from it. La Pala is situated behind Covac Vacuum, facing a small parking lot. Clearly, a lot of people have located the spot. The compact, rustic-design dining room is jammed.
La Pala's name refers to the long paddle that's used to put in and retrieve pizza from the oven. A vintage pala is next to the wood-burning oven, which understandably gets plenty of use. Many blistered pies are destined for tables and for takeout.
They're fine, especially the four-seasons number topped with olives, mushrooms, artichoke, prosciutto, tomato and mozzarella. Or try the Margherita and four-cheese pizzas. Buffalo mozzarella, however, turns the bufalina pizza soggy in the middle.
From this oven also comes the lunch-only panuozzo, a hot sandwich that gives the pizzas competition. There are seven varieties, led by the classico, with prosciutto, mozzarella, arugula and roasted peppers; and the melanzana, with eggplant, mozzarella, and tomato.
You'll also enjoy savory eggplant croquettes, which are boosted by smoked mozzarella and pecorino cheeses. Baked clams are tender and well-seasoned, too. So is the grilled octopus, finished with white beans, potato and citrus oil.
La Pala takes in some Latin touches, with a tasty opener of chorizo sausage and clams, accented with smoked paprika and a red wine reduction; as well as asparagus with manchego cheese and Serrano ham. But the house's paella, with chicken, chorizo, shellfish and saffron rice is overcooked. The risotto that comes with otherwise very good braised short ribs is similarly on the dry side.
Gnocchi are heavy-duty instead of airy and light. But they're in a respectable ragù and bolstered by fennel sausage and a mini-braciola. Orecchiette tossed with broccoli rabe, hot and sweet sausages and garlic improves on it. The top pasta, however, is stuffed paccheri, similar to oversize rigatoni, with ricotta and mozzarella, snippets of salami and creamy vodka sauce.
La Pala prepares a generous, no-nonsense "Parmesan trio," of veal, chicken and eggplant. Request yours with a pasta other than gnocchi. Roasted pork belly: flavor-packed with clams, white beans, capers, olives, piquillo pepper and cilantro.
Desserts are few. You can go from crème brûlée to the familiar version of tartufo, the ice-cream ball encased in chocolate. But a glass of limoncello really suits La Pala.