Maurizio Vendittelli has been scribbling notes about his very own Italian restaurant for decades. From his time as a busser at Cafe Donatello in Plainview, as a server at Basil Leaf Cafe in Locust Valley and captain at Cafe Continental in Manhasset to his 10-year tenure as general manager at Il Bacco in Little Neck and during his yearlong partnership in The Breakfast Club in Rockville Centre, he’s been jotting down ideas and asking himself what he would do if all the decisions were up to him.
Mangia Bene ("Eat Well" in Italian), which opened in September, is the answer.
The restaurant takes over the old Winston’s Kitchen & Bar in Rockville Center. Vendittelli took over both Winston’s and its sister pub, Churchill’s, in July. But whereas he characterizes his approach to the 20-year-old Churchill’s as "a restoration," Winston’s, established in 2015, has been transformed into a rustic Italian trattoria, complete with a tented "giardino" out back. Vendittelli hopes that the outdoor space, with its standing heaters and hanging heaters and fans, will carry him into the cool — if not the cold — weather.
Mangia Bene and Churchill’s are directly across the street from The Breakfast Club and Vendittelli spends most of his waking hours in this little patch of South Park Avenue. His collaborator in Mangia Bene’s kitchen is executive chef John Di Lemme, who cooked at Lupa and Del Posto in Manhattan and ran the kitchen at Cipollini in Manhasset. For the last year or so, Di Lemme has been an itinerant pasta maker, selling his handiwork (nome di macaroni: @etruscipasta) at Salumi Bar in Massapequa. Now he is chained to his pasta-making machine in Mangia Bene’s basement, where he produces spaghetti, paccheri, garganelli, casarecce and more. All pasta there is made in house. I was impressed by an eggy, creamless bucatini carbonara and even more by the strozzapreti bathed in a verdant pesto along with cubes of potato and lengths of green beans — a Genovese preparation one rarely sees on these shores.
Vendittelli brought over an electric pizza oven from Italy. Even in the old country, pizzaioli are turning from wood to electric to minimize greenhouse gases and this hammered copper Sud Forni does a great job. The eight pies include a Calabrese (with crumbled sausage and Calabrese chilies), a polpettini (meatballs, mozzarella, ricotta) and the PLT (Speck, arugula, cherry tomatoes and lemon).
The rest of the fare splits the difference between the Italian food you find in Italy, and the Italian food you find on Long Island: rice balls and baked clams, Caesar salad and fried calamari, a pork chop stuffed with Fontina and Speck and shrimp scampi on a bed or spinach and what the menu calls "The Parms," made with chicken or veal chop. Prices are modest across the board: for starters, salads and pizzas, $12 to $16; for pastas, $19 to $24 (about half that for half portions); for mains, $22 to $32.
I hate to have to say it, but you will eat well at Mangia Bene.
14 S. Park Ave., Rockville Centre, 516-447-6744, mangiabenervc.com