Given the extraordinary number of residents tracing their roots to the Boot, it should come as no surprise that our island possesses an abundance of restaurants Italian, Italian American, Italian-inspired — and fake Italian. The last appears to be on the rise, a casualty of these desperate times.
Over the past several months, importing authentic and high-quality Italian ingredients has been both difficult (culprit: disrupted supply chains) and expensive (culprit: tariffs on imported Italian foodstuffs and drinkstuffs). You can’t blame diners for wondering about the provenance of a restaurant’s Parmigiano these days or the origins of its orecchiette. Were its San Marzano tomatoes harvested anywhere near the feet of Mt. Vesuvius? Are those sausages the pride of Sicily or Stop & Shop?
Color Tony D’Aiuto skeptical.
"They don’t have the volcanic minerality," he says of some eateries’ sham San Marzanos. "There’s a qualitative difference." The tomatoes put to use by Leone, his trattoria in East Norwich, are the genuine article. And before you ask, the meatballs are his too ("they aren’t premade"), as are the sauces ("some places put a little oregano in something and call it their own"), while the chicken cutlets — anyway, you get the idea.
After opening briefly at the beginning of April, Leone used its coronavirus closure time to further test recipes before reopening in June. Since then, word of its slow-cooked and Sunday-sauced rigatoni with meatballs, Italian sausage and baby back ribs ($19) has begun to spread. Leone’s brick oven is capable of turning out a fine grandma’s pizza ($3.25 for a slice, $18 for a pie), and the kitchen’s veal Parmigiana is respectable (and reasonable, at $13).
"There are high-end places and low-end places, but not so many middle-of-the-road," says D’Aiuto of his restaurant, which accordingly features a simple but functional mid-size dining room as well as five sidewalk tables outside. Even rarer, especially these days, are good-quality, middle-of-the-road, made-from-scratch eateries like Leone.
"We don’t cut corners," D’Aiuto says.
Leone is at 1027 Oyster Bay Rd. in East Norwich, 516-588-9200, leonepizzany.com. Opening hours are Sunday through Thursday from noon to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday from noon to 10 p.m.